With daily obligations seeming to expand exponentially, life sometimes feels like a treadmill of tech and striving. Don’t get me wrong: I love tech and I’m a born striver. (The treadmill, not so much.) But all that leaning forward can leave a person feeling off balance, and all that connecting (Facebook, email, twitter, and and and) can leave a person feeling oddly disconnected.
Our tradition gives us an amazing opportunity, just as the seasons turn, to slow down, pay attention, press the reset button. As Elul begins tonight, we begin to get off the treadmill and to make a cheshbon ha-nefesh, an accounting of the soul, in preparation for the High Holidays. We pay attention, individually and communally, to how we treat others and how we conduct ourselves. We ask ourselves a veritable GRE of questions: Have we been honest in business? Have we been open and available with partners, families, and friends? Have we taken time for contemplation? We pay attention to our choices with money and our choices with time. Have we given tzedakah to the best of our capacity, with thoughtfulness and dignity? Have we been there — not just molecularly but spiritually — for the people who need us? Are we making wise and thoughtful use of our one and only lives?
Our tradition teaches us that there is always room for t’shuvah (return) but at this time of year, from Rosh Chodesh Elul to havdalah on Yom Kippur, the ground is particularly ripe for it. A great resource I’ve returned to (!) the past few years during this time of reflection is 10Q from Reboot (the same people who brought you the National Day of Unplugging).
For 10Q, the Rebooters send you one simple-not-so-simple question per day for the ten days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. The questions can be answered easily, but they invite the kind of pause that’s both meaningful and rare. At Yom Kippur, the answers are sealed up in an online vault, and as the next year’s Days of Awe approach, the vault is unsealed and the 10Q folks send you a link to review your answers from the previous year. It can be both thrilling and humbling to look at the past year’s answers and to see what changes and what doesn’t. The 10Q questions don’t change, but the answers do. And presumably we do as well.
In my line of work, it’s challenging to maintain a focus on the work of t’shuvah when I am busy creating the circumstances for others’ t’shuvah. I am determined this year not to lose sight of “the reason for the season” entirely. Here we go!