Everyone wants to say they are crushing it in life, but when Elul comes around, it can be overwhelming to see that it’s more like life is crushing us.
Don’t Despair! These 5 Mindfulness tips will help you take on teshuva like a Pro.
Step Ahead Toward God
The Talmud states that God created the world with the Hebrew letter heh because its unique form is an icon for teshuvah.
The letter heh is shaped like a doorpost, with a jamb and two sides, but without a floor. This is an allusion to God’s relationship to humanity, as the letter heh is also an abbreviation for the Hashem.
The space within the heh symbolizes the Divine presence; open at the bottom, the heh allows the human being the freedom to sin, to exit from the embrace of God. However, one of the two sides of the heh is also incomplete; it is slightly open just beneath the jamb. This second opening signifies that beyond giving us the free will that allows for sin. he remains open to the possibility of return, of reentrance into the sacred space – of teshuvah.
Teshuva is possible year round, and one can always return to God and have a close relationship with Him. But in the month of Elul God’s closeness and compassion are particularly potent. This is the time when our Sages say the King is in the field, not far off in some lofty palace. God is right here, right now. Knowing that God makes himself accessible and is willing to meet us halfway is a great and necessary foundation for doing teshuva.
PRO TIP #1: As a prerequisite step to the teshuva process, say these words to yourself: “God desires a relationship with me and He can meet me exactly where I am.” Then, just stay with that thought for a moment and connect with it.
Step Back And Forgive
We all have places in our lives where we clearly missed the mark; it’s part of being human. When we are in our places of deepest challenge we want to hide from others. We don’t want people to see us while we relive our moments of shame. Doing Teshuva with mindfulness means examining those dark corners of our lives that we prefer were not there in order to seek rectification and forgiveness.
One of the most powerful moments of communal prayer during the Jewish year is when we gather together for the Kol Nidre service on the night of Yom Kippur. The Shaliach Tzibbur, (prayer leader) says: With the consent of God and with consent of the community, in the Supernal Yeshiva and the Terrestrial Yeshiva we give permission to pray with the transgressors.
This declaration is a call to action, a mechanism to empower ourselves and our community to do the essential, inner work required of us. In essence we are all transgressors, and in order to do teshuva, and return to God we must examine our actions in the past year. If we are aware that we hurt someone, we must dig deep and ask them for forgiveness with an apology that is both meaningful and mindful. Apologizing sincerely, to others and to God, is the first step to healing the brokenness within ourselves and in the world around us. Rav Nachman of Breslov once said: “If you believe breaking is possible, then believe fixing is possible.”
Deep healing comes from being connected to other humans, whether they are sitting right next to you or on the other side of the world. Whatever problem you are dealing with (whether it’s a bad choice you made or some words you wish you could take back), right now there are millions of other people dealing with the same exact thing. Being mindful that others are also struggling, reassures us that we are not alone and puts us in the right frame of mind to make amends.
PRO TIP #2: Repeat this affirmation statement throughout the day: “If we have the power to hurt, we also have the power to heal.”
Step Up For Yourself
The High Holy Days are a powerful time for personal transformation. But introspection can sometimes lead to us being too hard on ourselves and have a negative effect.
This year, don’t beat yourself up, lift yourself up!.
Feel compassion and forgiveness towards yourself. This isn’t about letting yourself off the hook for poor behavior; it’s about stepping up and creating a positive environment that is conducive to growth, healing and making amends for your past mistakes.
For example, what do you do if you are unable to use your past mistakes as a springboard for growth? You find yourself constantly engaging in negative self-talk like, “I’m so stupid, I’m so disorganized, I have no self-control, I can’t believe I did that again!”
One trick to stop this bad habit is to Stop, Drop, and Roll- but with a twist!
While the catchy phrase is borrowed from Fire Safety: 101, this mindfulness method is a different, but equally effective way to escape the fires of our own self made purgatories. and burn the bridges between our past and future selves for good.
PRO TIP #3: STOP blaming yourself for what is in the Past. DROP that damaging habit, Here and Now. ROLL your focus forward to the Future.
Step Into Life
Now that we’ve identified what needs to be done, how do we actually do it? How do we actually master the art of crushing it in life? The answer is through mindfulness. In other words, our ability to access our higher awareness by studying and our automatic/habitual behaviors, and putting them to work for us and not against us.
Mindfulness transforms a person from a powerless and passive observer to an empowered major player in his own life, In order to understand this concept, consider the science of respiration.
Breathing is an involuntary reflex – it just happens automatically. Or is it? Take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your nose – keeping your attention on the air coming in and out at the tip of your nose.
PRO TIP #4: Congratulate yourself! You have successfully taken the involuntary act of breathing out of the domain of your automatic/ habitual self, and placed it within the control of your mindful self. Good job!
Step Away From Sin
The first thing we must do in our teshuva process is to abandon the sin — the negative thought, speech or action that blocks God from our lives. You can’t do teshuva on a specific transgression until you actually stop doing that specific transgression!
Additionally, it’s important to understand that for change to be sustainable, we must not only step away from the negative physical action, but we must also step away from the unhealthy emotional attachments that cause us to over-identify with and hyper-focus on the transgression.
How exactly do we do we accomplish this, especially when these habits are so engrained in us? With regular practice, we can use mindfulness to recognize the negative behaviors that are holding us back, like anger (or whatever you are dealing with) as soon as they begin and to stop them before they becomes deeply ingrained habits and behaviors that are too hard to break.
PRO TIP #5: Set a timer to go off every hour and each time the timer goes off have a mindful moment. Take three deep breaths in and out through your nose and then ask yourself: “what’s the most important thing I could be doing right now to connect with my higher/aspirational self?”
This simple practice of scheduling regular mindful moments throughout the day to preempt the spiritual numbness that comes from a life of mindless stagnation can help you step away from your negative automatic/habitual routines and increase your capacity for mindfulness.
And it’s also happens to be exactly what experts advise to prevent the physical numbness and stiffness the body suffers when you sit at your desk too long, like when your foot falls asleep or your back cramps up. Because the best way to prevent the inevitable consequences of inertia and infrequent motion, is to be mindful and proactively move around at regular intervals before the muscles atrophy and arthritis sets in.
The human mind is just as easily dulled by complacency and lethargy as our physical bodies. When we live our lives by rote, we put ourselves on auto pilot, thinking we are going places and reaching our goals. But in actuality we are going nowhere, accomplishing nothing of meaning or value and with the absence of mindfulness, we risk falling asleep at the wheel.
The process of teshuva requires us to delve deep within the complex world of human behavior, and uncover the dichotomy of wills that is Man. To be mindful that while there is part of ourselves that is compelled toward negative actions, like anger, (the automatic/habitual behavior), there’s also the mindful/higher/aspirational part of us that doesn’t want to lash out in anger any more.