Infusing Repentance with Mindfulness, Compassion and Self-Love
Creating the conducive environment to grow, heal and make amends.
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.
Here are three simple tools to help infuse your process of teshuva, repentance, with mindfulness, compassion and self-love.
1. Feel God’s Closeness
Before you even start thinking of doing teshuva, remember that you can feel close to God right now. This is true always, 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.
So before you start to reflect on all the ways you’ve missed the mark, say these words to yourself: God can meet me exactly where I am. Then, just stay with that thought for a moment and connect with it. Knowing God’s loving kindness is a great and necessary foundation for doing teshuva.
2. Step Away From the 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!
For lasting change, just as important as stepping away from the physical action is stepping away from our emotional attachment that causes us to over-identify with the transgression.
For example, if you’re engaged 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! – you need to drop that as well.
How do we do this, especially when these habits are so engrained?
One way is through mindfulness, our ability to access our higher awareness to study automatic/habitual behavior.
For example, you’ve been breathing all day - it just happens automatically. Now 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. (Really, go back and do that.)
Now you are the one who breathes and the one who is watching the breathing. The first one is our automatic/habitual self, the second our mindful self.
There’s the part of you that gets angry (automatic/habitual) and there’s also the mindful/higher/aspirational part of yourself that doesn’t want to lash out in anger any more. When we identify more with our higher selves than our habitual selves, change can happen.
Here’s one easy way that you can integrate mindfulness into your life: Set a timer to go off every hour (I use an app called Repeat Timer). 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 can help you step away from the automatic/habitual and increase your capacity for mindfulness.
With regular practice, we can use mindfulness both to recognize anger (or whatever you are dealing with) as soon as it creeps up on us and to stop it before the habitual negative thought, speech or action happens.
3. Everyone Is Dealing with Stuff
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.
Right before Kol Nidre the Shaliach Tzibbur, the prayer leader says: With the consent of HaMakom (God’s name literally meaning The Place) and with consent of the community, in the Supernal Yeshiva and the Terrestrial Yeshiva we give permission to pray with the transgressors.
In essence we are all transgressors. We all have places in our lives where we clearly missed the mark; it’s part of being human. Teshuva examining those dark corners of our lives that we prefer were not there and to seek rectification and forgiveness.
This can get tricky. 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.
But we begin the holiest day of the year stating: you have permission to pray together because you are not alone. We are all dealing with issues. 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.
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.
So the next time you’re focusing on your particular challenge, remember that just like you, there are millions of people around the world who struggling with the same issue.
Don’t beat yourself up. Feel compassion and forgiveness towards yourself. This isn’t about letting ourselves off the hook for poor behavior; it’s about creating the conducive environment to grow, heal and make amends.
There’s a lot of teshuva that needs to be done. Mindfulness, compassion and self-love make it possible.