Expectations, Effort, and the Task of T’shuvah

| guest blog, holidays |

I don’t know about you, but I often find the High Holidays very daunting. I mean, we’re supposed to take stock of our entire selves, turn our lives around, and inspire G!d to grant us another year of life! Stakes can’t get much higher.

Part of it, too, is that t’shuvah, the process of reconnecting with our deepest selves, can bring on a feeling of powerful catharsis and clarity. Once you’ve experienced that, it’s hard not to want to experience it again, hard not to try to recreate that “perfect combination” of practice and circumstance.

I’ve experienced the same thing with my meditation practice. Paradoxically, it’s when meditation has been extremely powerful for me that I have trouble sustaining my routine—because I’ve developed an expectation of how it “should” be, and I get wrapped up in feelings of failure when I can’t recreate that experience every time I sit.

One of the teachings in my meditation community (Art of Living) is that meditation is the art of doing absolutely nothing. While it takes effort to control the body, it takes effortlessness to “control” the mind. The more we aim for a certain emotional or spiritual experience, the farther we are from it. The more we are able to surrender, the more we are transformed.

I think that’s what Moses means (in Parashat Nitzavim, which we read shortly before Rosh Hashanah): “For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven….Neither is it beyond the sea….But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it” (D’varim 30:11-14).

In a sense, t’shuvah is beyond us. Like many things divine, it’s even beyond anything we can imagine. That’s why, when it happens, we feel like we are overflowing with blessing—we are literally taking in something larger than we are. In that sense, t’shuvah is a miracle—it’s something that is given to us, not something we produce. Instead of fighting for a particular experience of t’shuvah, I find it more useful to focus on cultivating openness—which is just a fancy way of saying that I actively practice doing nothing. To me, this year at least, t’shuvah isn’t about doing the impossible—it’s about doing the thing that’s very near to me. I can’t create the miracle, but I can show up to witness it.


Ri J. Turner is the Operations Manager of Nehirim: GLBT Jewish Culture & Spirituality. Ze is a frequent contributer to Jewish Mosaic’s Torah Queeries, as well as a student in the Kohenet Jewish Priestess program taught by Jill Hammer, Holly Taya Shere, and Shoshana Jedwab.


The views expressed by guestbloggers do not necessarily reflect the Jewish Meditation Center of Brooklyn’s positions, interests, strategies or opinions. But that’s what keeps it interesting.

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