Monday, September 17, 2012

Starting Fresh for Forgiveness

When I was a child, I was forced to miss school twice a year when my non-Jewish friends went to school (unless, of course, the holidays fell on weekends). And yes, even in elementary school, I hated missing school. Think what you want about me, I can take it. Those two days were Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah literally means the head of the year. It’s the new year for Jews. Yom Kippur is the day of atonement, the day we ask for forgiveness for all we have done "wrong" during the year.

As a child, I dutifully went to synagogue every year. Ok, usually I was dragged by my parents, but still, I went. I cared almost nothing about the holidays. Ironically, over the years I have stopped taking these days off from work, but they have begun to mean a lot more to me. I will be working all day today, and I will not be going to services, but the new year has me thinking, especially as it is tied to the day of atonement.

On December 31, everyone talks about resolutions. These are thoughts and ideas about how we are going to better ourselves going forward. It is a very personal endeavor, rarely focused on our place in the world. But the Jewish holidays being together like this are really something different. And it is my yoga practice that has connected me to this difference. The act of asking forgiveness is difficult. Instead of asking us to take a look at what we may like to change about ourselves and then heading out to a party, asking forgiveness requires us to take a look at how our being affects others around us. Some years this is easier than others.

Yoga, similarly, asks us to look at how our actions affect others. The Yamas and Niyamas, the first two limbs of the 8-limb yoga path, are rules for living. The yamas, specifically, address our interactions with others. They are: ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brachmacharya (just read the link – no succinct explanation), and Aparigraha (non-grasping). As a kid, all I heard was the need to ask for forgiveness for anything I had done to hurt another. A noble endeavor, for sure, but a little tough to grasp at times. Yoga has given me the tools to self reflect enough to examine what that truly means and to reach out with specificity to those I have hurt.

The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are, in some ways, somber. They are days of reflection, days of meditation, days to think long and hard about how our past year has gone. But first, we recognize the new year! There is something beautiful in the order. Before stepping into that somber world, we remember that no matter what we have done in the past, we can start fresh and renew. This is a new year, and the period of reflection is truly a chance to determine where we need to ask for forgiveness and a chance to move forward from that. 

It is also a chance to forgive others. The new year is a reminder that whatever they may have done to us in the past can be changed going forward. That is a refreshing thought. We need not hold on, another yoga lesson that is sometimes easier said than done. The time on the mat is a chance to reflect. It is a chance to turn inward and notice all the subtle ways we have missed the mark on where we wanted to be. 

But it is also the opportunity to let go, to see all that is new in the world. It is a chance to open our hearts to the possibilities of the year ahead remembering that we may make mistakes along the way, but also remembering that we can both forgive and ask forgiveness. We can also learn to preempt the need. We can set an intention to refrain from sending the nasty email (asking for a tone check from a friend helps). We can refrain from making disingenuous remarks about others. We can refrain from reacting through anger rather than thoughtful reflection.

What I have come to love about the Jewish New Year is that, like a yoga practice, it is both deeply personal and community oriented. The reflection is deep, but the need to engage others through forgiveness brings us together. It is somber reflection but also a chance to come together and celebrate the newness, not only of the new year, but also of the clean slate produced through forgiveness.  

I may be at work today, but these are the lessons my yoga practice has taught me about all those days I had to miss school as a kid!

And don’t forget the apples and honey! May your year be sweet and full of peace, light, and love.


© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved. 

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