One of my favorite teachings from the Dalai Lama about discovering your own spiritual path goes like this: Check out the religion of your childhood for any magical, mystical components that resonate with you now. Leave behind everything that doesn’t work for you and play around with any kernels that light up your heart.
For me, the religion of my childhood is Judaism. While my spiritual life today is comprised of many practices and beliefs that I definitely did not learn in Hebrew School (three times a week for eight years), I like finding the parts of my Jewish eduction that can work for me today.
The Jewish calendar is lunar, each month starting with the new moon. The other day we celebrated Rosh Hashannah — the head of the year — which is followed by ten days of internal reflection known as the high holy days or the days of awe.
Whether that lands for you or not, seasonally it’s a new year for those of us who live in places where it’s becoming autumn. If you’re starting a new semester of learning — in mainstream college or offbeat healing arts classrooms or you’re showing up for new relationship assignments at earth school — I’m very excited for you!
I hope that you are packing yummy snacks, making nice new friends, and hanging up your favorite drawings from each day on your fridge. My prayer for the new school year is that we remember that this learning is not separate from our spiritual paths. May your enrollment in life school remain engaging, purposeful, and playful.
In September a few years ago, my life was falling apart so it could be put back together again more beautifully. Today I feel grateful for my past experiences and thankful that I’m able to be present in my life now.
If you’re in crisis or drama or grief, loneliness right now, know that your circumstances and feelings are not permanent. Honor the depths of your pain and seek community to hold your hand as you walk through the mist. As Danielle LaPorte teaches: love your sadness, it won’t always be here and it has something to teach you.
Practicing the same rituals year to year helps me feel grounded in my body and community as time passes. Each year, whether I’ve been in terrible emotional pain or moved through the tides of my days with ease, I’ve always acknowledged the lunar new year with variations on the following practices.
What follows are suggestions that you can play with in any way that feels right to your soul. Take what works for you and leave the rest.
1. Tashlich a.k.a. go to the water and let that shit go.
During the days of awe we are asked to take stock of the past year and make direct amends to anyone who has been hurt by our actions. Sometimes this is not an option. It might be more hurtful to contact certain people then to leave them alone for the time being. Also, in matters such as war, pollution, internalized racism (the list goes on), we are all responsible and yet, how are we to make direct amends in these insurmountable situations?
In these cases we can turn to the practice of Tashlich, which comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to cast.” Head down to a moving body of water with a friend for conversation, a journal for contemplation, and bread crumbs or pebbles to symbolically release the shortcomings you are willing to let go of this coming year. Acknowledge the ugliness from the past year, energetically cast off these behaviors, and commit to showing up differently this coming year.
2. Set your intentions for the coming season.
Keep it simple. Ask your inner guidance system for clues on what your work may be for this coming year. Write down what you come up with and post it on your bathroom mirror. Take small steps to live in to this new way of being.
My intentions for this year are twofold. First, I’m focussing on letting myself off the hook. I’m turning away from self-punishment and working to minimize the bounce-back time when I do fall into judgement, self-pity, fear spirals, and future trips.
Secondly, this year I’m going to measure my success by how much joy I let in to my life. I’ve been working super hard to sit with feelings of shame, anger, disappointment, sadness, and pain. My tolerance to stick with myself in friendship and compassion through those uncomfortable states has increased and helped me to heal.
The next step is to stick with pleasure, fun, enjoyment, delight, and love without becoming overwhelmed, cutting my breathing short, and running away. I’m excited for this next unfolding and invite you to try out this intention too if it resonates with you.
3. Eat something sweet and practice blessing your food.
A common greeting during the days of awe is shanah tovah umetuka — a good and sweet new year. One way people usher in the the fresh start sweetly is by eating apples dipped in honey. All fruit and other deserts can be enjoyed for this purpose. These days I’m practicing staying present before, during, and after indulging in these sweet snacks.
Before: Say a prayer like, “I bless my food and my food blesses me.”
During: In your mind or in conversation with your companions, give thanks to the people, plants, and animals who gave their energy to bring you this food.
After: Take the experience of eating something sweet into your day by offering kindness to anyone who crosses your path, including yourself.