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Memoir in poetry and prose
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a time for turning

September 7, 2012

Tags: High Holidays, self-reflection, tshuvah, writing prompts, writing as a spiritual practice, cheshbon hanefesh

At this time of year my work with rabbinical students and rabbis coincides perfectly with the rhythm of the Jewish calendar - turning inward, exploring to find your best self, what makes you full, joyous, a holy instrument. The High Holidays call to us - turn. turn, remember your sacred and most authentic center, return to it, nourish it, so it can nourish you as you move through the new year. Below are some of the writing prompts I share with my students in this season, but they are an open menu for us ordinary folk too, Jews and those of other faiths, and those in search of faith. Sit with each of the prompts below that call to you, give yourself the gift of quiet time just for you, find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed, listen to the neglected voices within, write by hand, 15 minutes today, and again tomorrow...

Preparing for Awe: High Holiday Warm-ups and Stretches

1- Recall a situation or perhaps an image, from this summer or this past year, in which you felt wonderfully yourself, a situation in which some special aspect of yourself was expressed. It doesn’t need to be Olympic gold - though maybe it was a public achievement - but perhaps it was something small, subtle, something private only you were aware of. You felt, this is the "me" I am so happy to be, my best self. Tell the story, describe the situation, letting the details return to you in all their fullness….

Follow-up for 1- Now that you’re done writing it down, reflect on why/how the best part of you came out in that situation. What did you do to make that situation possible? How can you be that fully realized, special “you” more often in the coming year?

2-How have you cared for yourself this year? Make a list of all the ways - things you do every day, things you do sometimes, rarely. Read your list over, notice what you’d like to increase.

3-To whom do you feel grateful this year? How might you let them know?

4- Think of your family and closest friends: are you conscious of ways in which you may have harmed any of them, caused them pain in the past year, fallen short of the mark? How? Choose one person and focus on him/her: what is the regret or guilt you feel toward this person? What do you want the relationship to be like? What can you do to make amends, to bring about change? (repeat as needed)

5- Has anyone sinned against you this year, hurt you? How? What do you need from them to achieve healing? Is there something you can do to help bring about that healing, justice, reconciliation?

Perhaps that won’t be possible; if it’s not possible, how might you help yourself to find inner peace and move on?

6- We struggle not to become overwhelmed by the need for help and healing in our broken world. Decide on one or two specific places/issues/needs where you will commit to spend some time and energy on tikkun in this new year. Reflect in concrete terms on what that will look like for you.