I woke up yesterday morning at 4:30 AM to the sound of banging on our window. Aitan. Of course. My 15-year-old son who, took advantage of the holiday and pulled an all-nighter with his friends. And forgot his house key. He’s at that age. All’s good.
In fact, it was actually perfect timing as I was hoping to wake up at dusk anyway to walk to the nearby forest and start my day in solitude. So, rather than going back to bed after having unlocked the house, I went to the bathroom, put on my sneakers, grabbed the bag I had prepared the night before and headed out the door. I didn’t even need to get dressed as I had slept in my clothes from the night before.
As I mindfully walked in the direction of the forest, I noticed how very dark it was, aside from the few streetlights lighting the paths of the kibbutz. The “call to prayer” from the surrounding Arab villages in addition to my neighbors’ roosters were fighting for my attention. Both in fact, were music to my ears.
Walking slowly and in the dark, it took me much longer to arrive to my favorite spot in the forest, which would otherwise in daylight only take me about 15 minutes to get to. But, I wasn’t meeting a friend and I knew the rest of my family would still be asleep for a good number of hours. And the truth is, my kids are older now and quite independent. I wouldn’t be needed at home. So, I took all the time I wanted.
Once I arrived to the foot of the forest, it was still completely dark. I carefully found a spot near the entrance and sat in mindfulness meditation, despite the natural fear that one may have with being in a dark forest all alone. I don’t know how long I sat there, but the following “call to prayer” woke up me out of the slumber I had probably slipped into. I noticed the sun was starting to rise.
After singing the traditional modah ani prayer of gratitude, I opened my bag and removed the journals I had packed to bring with me. These were the journals I had written in over the past year and had every intention of reading purposefully on Yom Kippur.
I slowly opened the first journal and began to read it with a sense of curiosity. What do I actually remember from this past year anyway? To me, the practice of reading your journals is one of the best ways to recall your history and where you may have “missed the mark.” While the traditional Al chet liturgy spans the many facets of our lives in terms of the possible places we may have “missed the mark,” there is great value in reading your past writings in order to bring to life real situations where we may have hurt or created unnecessary pain to others or to ourselves. While our journals may not be exhaustive, they do incorporate the highlights and perhaps, the most important aspects we can contemplate in earnest.
There were many places I read in my journal where I “missed the mark” including: mindless eating, lack self-belief, resistance with waking up early in the mornings, neglecting my body, comparing myself to others, being close-hearted, being impatient, being judgmental, distancing myself from God, playing the victim, being unforgiving, creating unnecessary stress, and not being the person I wanted to be.
The risk of this “reading your old journals practice” is that admitting all of the places you may have “missed the mark” can make you feel defeated, which is certainly not the purpose of this holiday. In fact, there is a tradition I once learned from an alternative Yom Kippur service I attended a few years ago that is strikingly powerful to remind you also of the places where you were precise in “hitting the mar” with your thoughts and actions.
This practice first offers the participants of the prayer circle to share out loud where they “missed the mark” (and the remaining participants are invited to respond with “Ahoy!” if the message resonated with them.) Afterwards the participants are invited to share where they “hit the mark” (Al diyuk) in the same manner.
When I began to contemplate the places I missed the mark I read about in my journal, I realized for every place I missed the mark, I also hit the mark at least once the past year. That is, my story wasn’t all black. I did have moments where I ate mindfully, believed in myself, woke up in the early morning for meditation and yoga, took care of my body, stayed in my own lane, was open-hearted, practiced patience, was accepting, brought myself closer to God, did not play the victim, was forgiving, did not complain, and was the person I wanted to be.
And while I acknowledge the purpose of Yom Kippur is not about identifying where we hit the mark, I do believe that this alternative practice offers us glimpses of hope for where we do have the ability to change and become the people we want to become. That is, that we can, indeed, live deliberately.
I spent over four hours in the forest on Yom Kippur. I am incredibly grateful for the journals I kept – not because I have any intention of reading them again – but because they opened my eyes and enhanced my awareness of who I was being this past year and they guided me to visualize an image of who I want to be on Yom Kippur 2021.
If you don’t have a journaling practice, I encourage you to consider starting one. You don’t have to write much and you don’t have to write daily. Yet, being the keeper of your memories (and then reading them year to year) may prove to you to be a powerful key to your emotional health and well-being and growth as a human being.