Welcoming Elul: A Spiritual Check-Up

August 30, 2019

The month of Elul brings about many distinct blessings: the sounding of the shofar, the shifting of perspectives, the opportunity to take stock of our year thus far. As many of us prepare for the High Holidays, this is a powerful and dynamic time to reflect on the things we have learned from the past year, as well as lessons that require further attention. Jewish tradition encourages us to sit with our actions and the actions of those around us, to see plainly the positive and negative impacts we may have had or experienced, and to both seek and give forgiveness.

This a time of cheshbon hanefesh, “soul accounting.” What does it truly mean to take account of one’s soul? One way to understand it is searching within ourselves to find our deepest truths and beliefs, and making sure that our actions are in step with them. In other words, it means beginning the work that will lead us to releasing the tensions, individual and collective, that we have absorbed throughout the last year. By taking the time to pause and reflect on our inner alignments, we can begin to heal in ways we might not have realized we needed.

Reading and studying are tried and true methods of soul accounting. They can offer ways to find windows into our own souls, ways of remembering we are not alone in what we experience. Looking at Psalm 27, traditionally read twice a day during the month of Elul, can offer up a meaningful path to self-reflection and meditation.

“G-d is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? G-d is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27, 1)

How often do we think about what we are afraid of, fears beyond creepy-crawlies or strange sounds in the night? How often do we let ourselves think about our fears of loneliness, fears of failure, fears of vulnerability; and the times in our lives when those fears have been highlighted or exploited? When we read this line, it can be easy to walk out of it with the idea that we must simply put all our faith in G-d, or a G-d idea, so that we may live fearlessly. But what if we were to instead accept and acknowledge our fear, while holding the truth that it need not define us?

The fears of the everyday can saturate our minds with tension, but fear serves a purpose; It is a source of ancient wisdom letting us know when something harmful might be near. When we pause to listen carefully and reflect, fear can be an invitation to evaluate our surroundings and choose our next steps mindfully. Fear is a learning tool and can be a source of true understanding, provided we then know when to trust our own wisdom, turn to fear and say, “Thank you, but I’ve got this.”

The work of Elul, and of the High Holidays, is steeped in the kind of introspection that can feel terrifying to many of us. A time when we are encouraged to admit our mistakes and then make every attempt to correct them? Yikes! So many of us find ourselves struggling with shame or mental anguish when we have erred, and that is part of our inner wisdom reminding us to make amends; However, we must not allow ourselves to end there. Dwelling on the pain of our mistakes prevents us from being in the present, and from making changes in our lives for the better. More than that, it accumulates the exact kind of tension we work so hard in this season to release.

As we seek and give forgiveness this season, let us be sure to start with ourselves. Let us be sure to take the time we need for ourselves out of our busy lives to listen to what will awaken our souls. There are so many ways of awakening the soul during the month of Elul, from monumental life changes to the simplest. Maybe it’s listening to a specific podcast on a new topic, or grabbing a journal and writing down a few reflections each morning and night. It could be doing a different yoga practice each day, or even picking one pose to focus and meditate on. Whatever it may be, this month is a powerful time to look deep within ourselves and perform not just soul accounting but a spiritual chiropractic, aligning our heads and hearts, minds and bodies and souls, to the places we are truly meant to be.

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