Today’s Monday is smack dab in the middle of the ten high holy days in Judaism known as “The Days of Awe.” Bracketed by the Jewish new year– Rosh Hashana–at the beginning, and Yom Kippur, at the end, these ten days are a time of deep, personal reflection and atonement. Rosh Hashana celebrates new beginnings and is punctuated by fancy meals that contain sweet ingredients, symbols of sweet wishes for the coming year. It is a moment where every action and prayer is meant to usher in fresh starts and good intentions. Yom Kippur, conversely, is a day of fasting and thoughtfulness about what, during our last year, we feel regretful, and an opportunity to atone and set things straight. One of the ways Jews participate in atonement is to approach the actual individuals in their lives with whom they feel they need to make things right. What a scary thing, right? To admit your mistakes to a person and, perhaps, even ask for forgiveness or propose a new way forward is pretty scary stuff for even the most grounded individuals. This is an admittedly simplistic description of a complex and meaningful holiday season, but the themes of personal reflection and atonement is really what I’m getting at here.
From a quick google search, I see that many religious types do not like to pick apart the word “atonement” into “at one ment,” and there are many online disagreements about the origin of the word. Seems, however, that the Oxford English Dictionary is the final authority on this topic, placing the origin of the word in the early 16th century and being derived from a phrase that meant exactly that: being at one (in this case, with the divine).
While I usually focus on what in our lives is positive, I think there are actually moments of self-reflection that require us to look at what isn’t working. I like the phrase “being at one,” too, because I think it speaks to the idea of being at one with our selves. A couple of weeks ago, on my own new year, I talked about being authentic and how our egos and our fears can keep us from this state of authenticity, which I think is much like “oneness.” You can call it oneness with whatever works for you… Nature, the Universe, the Infinite, the Divine, God… it’s all good.
Extending the idea of being personally authentic into the idea of at-oneness, it’s possible to begin to see the challenge of how our egos and fears are such forces in our lives. To get a clear picture of this, imagine a relationship in your life that isn’t quite right. You might, however, feel you are the one who has been wronged, hurt, betrayed or stung by this person. Chances are, you believe that you are right and the other person isn’t. But, instead of shrugging this off and going happily on with your life, there are feelings that linger and stay, and you hold them like the proverbial monkey on your back. Most of us in these situations settle for the standoff because, somehow, it feels easier–which is the message that our egos and our fears make sure we receive because it keeps them in control. And, even if we can’t think of a particular person or situation that brings up the feeling of unsettled oneness, we are all familiar with the feelings of regret and the idea that there are things we wish we hadn’t done or said and, whether or not we are ready to admit it, this energy ripples out into the Universe where it touches others.
But, my question today is this: What if we could truly examine our selves? What if we could reflect on who we are with such authenticity that we were able to see how our not-so-great thoughts, words and deeds may have played a part in getting that monkey to take up residence on our backs? And, furthermore, what would it feel like–if only to us–to make a move toward being more at one with both our selves and the Universe?
To my Jewish friends, L’Shana Tova. To all my friends, sweet wishes for blissful oneness.
TRY THIS WEEK: Authentic self-reflection… see where it takes you.