Religion & Beliefs

“Get Confident, Stupid!”

I love these days leading up to the High Holidays because they feel like the hours leading up to a special house guest arriving. (Not the frantic change-out-of-sweatpants-before-the-buzzer-rings kind of spectacle– I mean when things are in order and you're … Read More

By / August 21, 2007
Jewcy loves trees! Please don't print!

I love these days leading up to the High Holidays because they feel like the hours leading up to a special house guest arriving. (Not the frantic change-out-of-sweatpants-before-the-buzzer-rings kind of spectacle– I mean when things are in order and you're really excited for your guest to arrive.) There is an awful lot to think and talk about during these days. All this focus on shaping up to be in top form, spiritually and in more concrete terms, for the Days of Awe, is a lot. It's a good pressure, but I can't help but wonder if maybe that pressure pulls us away from ourselves a bit sometimes and pushes us in the wrong direction, becoming the exact opposite of what we need to be doing right now. I'm all for striving to be our best selves, and really, I think being our best self is probably the best way to try and live, but sometimes, all that striving, all that pushing, makes us forget what we really want and need deep down in order to feel like we're bringing the a-game in our lives. (I can't believe I just said "a-game". What do I think this is? ESPN.com? Let's try that again.) In order to feel like we're listening to ourselves and, most importantly, being ourselves.

Maybe my childhood shyness was really an incredible opportunity to stand at a unique vantage point. Maybe feeling like (Hello? because I usually was) a side-liner let me stand back and see the ripples that different actions sent out into the world by individuals, and not from, say, the groups they belong to. I wonder about this sort of thing often and in all the years I have thought about it, I have never grown tired of milling it over. But, to me, it appears that the only people who are making waves, affecting any real change, are those bold enough to throw a pebble into the center of the still waters in the first place. How many times in your life have you taken a deep breath and with your heart beating out of your chest blurted out something you've been aching to say? How many times have you put yourself out there and risked everything only to wonder later why you didn't do something sooner because it went so well? Those are moments of throwing that pebble, of being so very uncluttered and authentic; exhilarating, terrifying and unburdening yourself all at once.

The "pebble" can be a lot of things, but it is uniquely yours and, I think, you have no limit on them. The pebble can be an unveiling, an emotional make-over, an honesty, a setting of boundaries, saying yes out of your comfort zone or saying no out of your comfort zone. Throwing the pebble can be trying something you've always wanted to try, taking better care of yourself, or simply getting out of your own way and letting your life be easier, less dramatic, more fulfilling. But, it can also be the casting away of toxic people, an inharmonious relationship, a bad habit, an unhealthy choice… and the ripples these pebbles send out when cast are positive changes and good things coming into view because you said enough and let yourself be who you really are, even if just for a moment.

As appropriate as it might be for me to make this about making a social or political difference, I'm not going to do that, though maybe something I say could be placed into that context. I'm talking about the personal. About embracing yourself, for exactly who and what you are (and are not) and letting go of structures that we have remained in because we thought we should and for keeping sailing as smooth as possible (Stay with me on this water theme a bit longer, eh?). So what if what you really think, feel and need deep down doesn't make sense? So what if odds are against you? Try anyway because it feels right. I would venture a guess that more people regret not trying than trying, no matter the outcome. Just be authentic, no matter how much it might make you stand against the grain of your surroundings.

A sense of community is essential, and the older I get, the more I know that to be true. But, there is far more reward in cultivating ourselves day by day based on what we believe, what we really believe in our core, rather than nodding along to easily-found sound bites and buzzwords of groups we want to belong to. And really, I think it's likely only when we're talking care of ourselves as best we can that we're able to really give to the people around us.

To quote a woman I said Kaddish for when I learned of her passing: "It is easier to live through someone else than to become complete yourself." -Betty Friedan

Sure it would be easier. But, ultimately, that's what we're sort of here for, right? It's sort of what it's probably about. To consider, to try, to think things over, each time gently pulling away a layer of something inauthentic or that we no longer relate to. Or perhaps never did. And, shame on me if I didn't point out the obvious similarities to this and Tashlich. We throw bread crumbs into the water to symbolically cast away past unforchness to make room for good, to make an intentional gesture that says this year, I'm going to get this right. Maybe bearing that in mind, or taking that approach, as we prepare for the Holidays is something to consider.

There's a lot of focus during Elul about getting ourselves ready for the High Holidays by striving harder, doing more, being better. But, maybe, just maybe, we could benefit just as much, if not maybe more, by looking, really, really looking, at the choices and behaviors we shape our lives with. Maybe instead of adding things to improve, we need only let some things fall away.