The season has already changed, can it be possible?
Wasn’t it just yesterday that we went to the beach, attended a family picnic, watched the July 4th parade? But Mother Nature is telling me that the change began a while ago. At the end of July, Shabbat (Sabbath) began at 7:56. At the end of September, it began at 6:26. The hours of light are fewer. Temperatures at night are cooler. Leaves are turning and dropping. I am sleeping for more than 8 hours as my body tells me that winter is coming. The change of seasons is a good time to detoxify the body, say my naturopathic physician and my acupuncturist. But what about the soul?
Yes, what about the soul? In this region we live in, we tend to focus on doing, doing, doing. When we meet someone for the first time, we may ask, “And what do you do?” When we run into obstacles, we obsess about them long after we have moved forward. When we have a disagreement with someone, we keep it alive by being self-righteous and offended. Yes, all that negativity works its way inward. A focus on doing means that being is relegated to the back seat of the soul. Has your soul ever felt heavy within you, weighed down by sadness, grief, anger, and alienation? Mine has, and I’ll bet you can think back to some time in your life when yours has, too. And then you wake up one morning and say, “Enough! This has to change!” One way you can make that change is through faith, whatever your faith tradition.
The Jewish calendar keeps us busy throughout the year, just as the calendars of other religious traditions do. But paying attention to this calendar is a good way to keep the sludge off your soul, I have found. Is this an easy fix, a quick detox? Not on your life! It is hard work as you stand face to face with your shadow self, with your failings, with your rationalizations.
The Jewish calendar year 5777 began on Oct. 2 at sundown, Erev Rosh Hashanah, the eve of the Jewish New Year. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, began at sundown on Oct. 11. But spiritual detox does not happen in one day, and a lot of introspection, prayer and relational bridge-building is needed well before Yom Kippur. All during the preceding month of Elul right up until Rosh Hashanah, Jews who are actively detoxing their souls take time every day to consider their different attributes and actions over the past year and to be honest with themselves about where improvement is needed. In addition, before Yom Kippur, they must go to anyone they have offended or done wrong to, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. Only then can they stand shoulder to shoulder, in congregation, with Jews around the world during Yom Kippur and ask God’s forgiveness for this extended community as well as for themselves as individuals.
If we are redecorating a dirty, worn-out room, first we have to clean. Then once we paint and replace the furnishings, the room looks and feels brand-new and wonderful, and living in it is uplifting to the spirit. So it is with the soul. We have to move out the sludge and repaint it with our good intentions, refresh it so that when the Light comes in, we are dazzled by the brilliance and feel renewed. But in the Jewish framework, it is not enough to do the work as individuals.
The community must also stand together, responsible for each other and also responsible for how things may have not gone well during the past year because as individuals, we forgot the importance of community. It is no accident that right at the beginning of morning prayers is the verse “V’ahavtah l’reiahkhah kamokha”: You shall love each other person as yourself.”
So think about it whatever your faith tradition recommends for spiritual detox, it may be just what you need to bring in the Light to fill those gaps you feel in your life. Religious observance is not at all what so many see and reject as a collection of outdated, meaningless practices devoid of spirituality. On the contrary, opening the heart to the profound spiritual traditions within your faith framework can help you with your “soulful housecleaning.” Re-discover your place in your faith community. Get to know your ordained and lay leaders- they are there to guide you in gaining a deeper understanding of how those rituals are rich in healing power and joy and, yes, spirituality. When you are ready, release the soul sludge and welcome the Light- after all, spiritual detox is good for the soul.
Suzanne Schermerhorn, Sh’lichat Tzibbur/Spiritual Leader at KIS Synagogue.