Yom Kippur, aka The Day of Atonement, is the most sacred of holy days. A time when we, as individuals and a community, ask for forgiveness. A time we atone for our own bad actions committed, contemplated, and witnessed, and good ones not chosen, and forgive others the same. It begins the year with as clear a conscience and heart as we will grant ourselves and those around us.
It’s a fasting day. A time to go inward. A day spent looking into the mirror of our inadequacies, with the hope that we will come away cleansed and renewed. Not a bad bargain for a little hunger.
There’s also literal chest pounding to accompany our moral inventory. The guilty and the rest of us, reciting the oh-so-many ways to short-change goodness. We witness, anonymously, the failings of others as we acknowledge our own.
Sometime this week (Saturday the 14th if you wanna be in the synchronistic groove) reflect on the list below. Look deeply into your memory and your heart. What if you actually honored this set of behaviors as a template for daily life?
An illustrative excerpt (imagine the syncopated thumping and chanting, and each action starting with “We have…”): We have acted wrongly; been untrue; gained unlawfully; defamed; harmed others; been unjust; hurt; told lies; given bad advice; neglected others; laughed in scorn; stirred enmity; treated others with disdain; thrown ourselves off course; and, my personal favorite, we have kept ourselves from change.
Yikes! for most of us. But what if you felt forgiven for your past. And if you set an intention to be more conscious? Start with a clean slate, and promise (perhaps not for the first time) to do better?
You can up the ante with face-to-face or written apologies. But start by looking yourself in the mirror and seeing where you’ve blown it. Pay attention to how you feel as you consider the how’s and why’s of your misdeeds, your persistent shortcomings, even your moments of casual indifference.
Most of us don’t really want to cause harm. We act too quickly, from self-interest, even by trying too hard to help. We think about our own feelings more than others’. Around our core issues we lapse into bad behavior out of unconsciousness, habit, resistance, and fear.
The atonement process helps get your attention. Helps you think about becoming a better person. About paying closer attention to how you act towards others and yourself. About trying to live with more goodness..
It sounds so simple. But we all backslide. Even if your most sincere “I’ll try harder this time” turns out to be a colossal failure, the saying and the trying both matter. Self-forgiveness is the beginning of greater awareness.
Perhaps journal when you go through the list. (Feel free to add your own sore spots.) Try to identify an intervention. Some consciousness-sparking cue that might trigger better attention the next time something snags you. Anything that’ll cue an interrupt and a moment of heightened consciousness. You don’t have to keep score of hits and misses, just remember to remember, and see what that changes in you.