Most of us don't like it.
No matter what form it takes.
Friday was the first day of the Autumnal Equinox.
The seasons are changing.
That makes some people unhappy - sad to leave behind swimsuits and flipflops, sunscreen and bugspray.
It makes other people happy - looking forward to sweaters and boots, snow flurries and sledding.
But either way, everyone has something to complain about.
This week, change came to Facebook. It seems to me that everyone is complaining about it.
No matter how you feel about the Facebook situation, change is hard.
That's one of the reasons that Elul and the looming holidays can seem so daunting.
They are a serious reminder that we all need to change.
Just a little or a lot, there's always room for new habits, new ideas, new personal behaviors.
There's always something to improve and work on.
Are you resistant to change? Are you afraid of it?
Look beneath the resistance and the fear...what is holding you back? What are you waiting for?
How can you make a change this year?
Thursday's Jewels of Elul Question of the Day was: If you had to choose a profile picture that best reflects your life this year what picture would you use?
This is an interesting question. I'm always fascinated by the pictures that people choose to define themselves. A couple of my friends have cartoon characters that look surprisingly like themselves. (They were drawn that way....) Many have pictures of their children. Some have a nice headshot. Some feature their favorite sports team or other logo. I change my profile picture pretty regularly. But the current one is a picture of me with all four of my children.
Best reflects my life this year?
I think I'd have to pick a much blurrier photo, perhaps one that has all of my family and friends in it, a composite of how many lives I've connected with and how many people have touched me this year.
That picture doesn't really exist and in these last days before the holidays, I don't have the time to photoshop something like that...but I can imagine it...all blurry and beautiful...everyone's tiny face making up the mosaic of my life.
Because I am not alone.
And for that I am most profoundly grateful.
Today's Jewels of Elul question is: If someone says to you, "You haven't changed a bit since I last saw you 5 years ago!" what would you say?
That personal growth is not something you can see.
That inner change, inner work, is hard business. And it's usually hidden.
When you go to the gym and change your eating habits, it usually manifests in a physical change.
But when you spend time with yourself, considering and thinking and working and praying and learning....you don't always look different.
To know that I'm not the same person I was five years ago...
To know that on the outside, I appear to be exactly the same....
It's a struggle. I'm not who you think I am.
I'm not who I used to be.
Even though I look the same.
So what does this teach?
That we have to approach each person as though they are someone new.
Give them the "benefit of the doubt."
The capacity for change is inside each of us.
If we believe that it is inside ourselves, we must acknowledge it in everyone else as well.
How many times have you thought...I wish I had what she has. I wish I had what he has.
Is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence?
Or is the grass that we have delightful because we have it?
Make the most of what you have.
Celebrate it, in fact.
It will grow and grow.
Elul is a good time to count your blessings.
Don't wish for the blessings you don't have.
Just start counting the ones that you do...
month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of
renewal and reflection. It offers a chance for spiritual preparation for the
Days of Awe. It is traditional to begin one’s preparation for the High Holy Days
during this month with the Selichot, the prayers of forgiveness. We look to
begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, I'll be
blogging (except on Shabbat) a thought for each day to help with your month of
preparation...Most of my #BlogElul
posts will be here, some will be over at my other blog, imabima.blogspot.com, so feel
free to visit me there or follow me on
Twitter to read all my #BlogElul posts and others' posts
Rabbi Bunam, a Hasidic rebbe
who lived over a century ago, taught his followers: “Our great transgression
is not that we commit sins: Temptation is strong and our strength is weak. No,
our transgression is that at every instant we can turn to God—and yet we do not
We always have the chance to turn to God: To God--the
Eternal Power of the universe, to God-that small still voice, to God-the light
buried deep within us waiting to shine forth out into the world. Elul begs us
to quiet down for even just a moment and turn towards The Light. To quiet the
fears, to stop the mind from racing with the to-dos, the struggles, the
Thinking! Turning can come automatically when we quiet down and give ourselves
a time-out from it all. Knowing that the opportunity to Turn is always
available to us, reminds me of a teaching of Rabbi Kook's that I learned
from my teachers Rabbi Myraim Klotz and
Diane Bloomfield. Rabbi Kook taught
that "the soul is always praying." He wrote: h
Perpetual Prayer of the
We can only pray the way prayer is supposed to be when we
recognize that in fact the soul is always
praying. Without stop, the soul soars and yearns for its Beloved.
It is at the time of outward prayer, that the perpetual prayer of the soul
reveals itself in the realm of action. This is prayer's
pleasure and joy, its glory and beauty. It is like a rose, opening its elegant
petals towards the dew, facing the rays of the sun as they shine over it with
the sun's light. Olat Re'iyah vol.1, p. 11
The "soul is always praying." When all the
chatter stops and we gently quiet ourselves down we can become aware of our
breath and of our own blessed existence. When we are still enough, we can hear
our soul-prayers, no matter how soft her voice. The soul sings of her
yearnings, joys, loves, and desires. She sings out her fears and and shares her
hopes and dreams. She longs to be heard by the One who matters most. Her
prayer-song may even fill us with grace, if we let it. When we are present
enough to remember that our soul is praying, we might catch a glimpse of its--of
our-- blessed existence. When we feel her praying, we are in connection
with the divine. We are doing teshuva.
Come back regularly for more posts from #BlogElul and make sure to follow me on Twitter for not only my posts but links to other people who are participating.
Remember how I said I went back to spin class?
So...when am I going back again?
I think I might be too tired. Or too busy. Or too sore. Or...
The same is true for the work of repentance, isn't it?
I'm too busy.
It's too hard.
I can't stop to think about what I want to say.
I don't know how to pray.
We can make excuses.
Or we can do the real work of repentance, the real work of personal growth.
(And I can go back to the spin class.)
I've been driving Yael to school all by herself this week. It's rare for my children to be in the car alone with a parent (with four kids, you're almost always with someone else) and she has relished being able to have the freedom to make the musical selection.
Her current favorite? The Alef Bet Song by Debbie Friedman.
Over and over.
But of course, since it's Elul, it reminded me of a story.
The story is told that once the Baal Shem Tov, the great Chasidic teacher, was leading a prayer service. Within the congregation there was a simple shepherd boy, who could barely read. He didn't know any of the prayers. But as the Baal Shem Tov led the congregation, the boy was so moved that he wanted to pray. Instead of the words of the prayers, he began to recite the letters of the alef-bet. He said, "Oh God, I don't know the words of the prayers, I only know all these letters. Please, God, take these letters and arrange them into the right order to make the right words." The Baal Shem Tov heard the boy's words and stopped all the prayers. "Because of the simple words of this boy," he said, "all of our prayers will be heard in the highest reaches of Heaven."
May the letters form themselves into words...and may we find within ourselves the means to speak to God.
I just couldn't seem to get my rhythm together, I just couldn't feel like I was doing what the instructor was saying. I was out of breath, I was uncomfortable, I was very cranky. I was ready to give up and walk out. But I didn't stop.
Then a really wonderful thing happened at about the 30 minute mark. Things started to fall into place. I was able to push myself when she said "work harder!" I was able to move my body and feel that I was gaining from the experience, instead of just huffing and puffing along.
The last 20 minutes or so of the class were great. I worked hard, I gave it my all. When it ended, I was definitely ready for it to be over, but I felt great. I was so glad I hadn't quit halfway through.
I think that religious experiences are like that for many people. It's been a long time since they've had to work out their spiritual muscles. And the first part might be really hard. Many people just give up. But the ones who stick it out? We end up sore but happy the first night. And we go back for more and more, until it becomes a part of our routine, until the spiritual workout feels good and right and necessary.
Elul is a great time to start up a new habit. It's 30 days...a perfect amount of time to set goals and try new things. So how are you going to get in gear for the holidays?
I have a friend who loves the sun. Whenever we go out for lunch or coffee in any weather that remotely feels warm, she insists on sitting outside and preferably in the sun.
I don't remember always loving to sit outside. But since I've been her friend...it's my first instinct, even when I'm not with her. I didn't know how much I loved being in the fresh air!
But I don't really love sitting directly in the sun (as much as I've learned to love sitting outside). She has lovely tanned skin...but I get a big ol' red sunburn if overexposed. So we usually have to compromise, and look for seats that are partially in the shade. She gets the sunny seat, I get the shady one.
In my garden, we are growing sunflowers. We've never grown them before. I am shocked at how tall they have gotten, and with no flowers yet! But yesterday, I saw this peeking out....
Yes, we are going to have some sunflowers. They are peeking out into the sun, seeking light. Each of these flowers is reaching as high as they can for the sunniest sun they can get.
I thought I was going to write a post about sunflowers and how they track the sun, facing their beautiful heads up toward the brightest spot. But instead, I read this on Wikipedia:
A common misconception is that sunflowers track the sun.In fact, mature flowerheads typically face east and do not move. The leaves and buds of young sunflowers do exhibit heliotropism (sun turning). Their orientation changes from east to west during the course of a day.The movements become a circadian response and when plants are rotated 180 degrees, the old response pattern is still followed for a few days, with leaf orientation changing from west to east instead.The leaf and flowerhead bud phototropism occurs while the leaf petioles and stems are still actively growing, but once mature, the movements stop.
Oh my goodness, there's so much to unpack in that - I feel a million sermons coming on! But seriously...they face east? It's just too perfect. Please, though, read through it all again. Young sunflowers move and learn a response pattern to move. But when they are mature (and have stopped growing) the movements stop.
Just like sunflowers, when we stop growing, we stop moving.
Just like sunflowers, we seek the sun when we are young but our instinct is to find a direction and face it once we are older and set in our ways.
Elul is here to remind us that we are not meant to be that way. We can and should find a way to move and redirect and find the light as it moves through our lives in different ways.
I'm so glad that my friend taught me to seek the sun, even at an age when perhaps I was ready to stay set in my ways. I am so glad that I am able to learn and grow and change.
Each day, each moment, I am ready to seek the sunshine.