As the High Holy Days approach and I prepare to join Rabbi Dan Ain and Jeremiah Lockwood for 92Y’s OBSERVE: High Holy Days in Brooklyn services, I’ve been thinking about the Jewish practice of creating spaces for people to gather and reflect. It seems like there’s often no time in the day to really pay attention to not just what we are doing—but how and why we’re doing it.
In my own life, my meditation practice has given me an awareness of just how distracted I can be throughout the day: trying to keep track of to-do lists, unfinished business, last-minute tasks. As I think about my social plans while working and plan for work while out being social, I frequently catch myself lost in thought and missing out on what’s happening right in front of me.
Setting aside time to escape the normal mode of endless doing and reflect on who we are being in the world: this is something many people reserve for therapy. But such pausing is an enormous gift of meditative practice and of the High Holy Days.
Teshuva, usually translated as “repentance,” comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to turn.” In meditative practice we engage in teshuva when we turn our attention inward, away from the many alluring distractions of our busy lives, and try to take an honest look at what’s happening in our awareness at a given moment. Good, bad or ugly … we first have to actually look and pay attention to what we are working with to know where we might want to make some change.
The High Holy Days are an incredible time to make this turn inward. We’re fortunate to have this time carved out by our tradition to gather and reflect. We collectively remind ourselves that although we so often get distracted in our own lives, there’s always an opportunity for teshuva: turning back to find our breath, our community and where we want to go.
One of the lessons of the New Year is that life always offers a chance to renew and reset our direction … that is, if we can stop for a moment to take an honest account of where we stand.