Saturday, September 3, 2016

Elul Tools 2016 - 1 Elul 5776

Elul Tools 
Building a Strong Foundation for
the Days of Awe

Listen to the shofar blast here (click the arrow)!

Today's Elul Chai-Ku:

Return to the source.
Rain drops return to the sea.
Teshuvah. Come home.

1 Elul: Teshuvah...Your Return

You’ve been away for awhile, engaged in the messy business of life. It’s a beautiful mess, of course, since human-ness brings all sorts of grit and chaos. Nothing stays tidy and perfect for long. It’s like cleaning up the kitchen after a meal. Yes we enjoyed the eating, the tasting. But then there is always that pesky mess at the end. We could decide never to cook again, never spoil the clean kitchen. In this way we would avoid the mess, but lose the nourishment, the pleasure we get from cooking and eating. So we go at it again. Day after day we make fantastic, sloppy messes in the kitchen and in our lives.

This works for awhile. We immerse ourselves in life. Whatever messes crop up along the way, we tidy them as best we can. But something begins to happen with the passage of time. There’s a build up of spiritual grime quite similar to the sticky goop on the shelf of the refrigerator or the greasy smudges on cupboard doors. This soiling of our souls often escapes our attention. Or perhaps we sense something is amiss, but just don’t have the time, energy, or know how to tackle it.

The Days of Awe give us an annual opportunity for a deep spiritual cleanse, something like a Jewish spring cleaning. It is true that we did an intense cleaning and reorganization last year at this time. But even for the most fastidious among us, within weeks and days of immersing ourselves in relationships and work, events and schedules, hobbies and chores, our “internal” rooms develop that same grimy coating. It’s not a quick, easy clean up. Now we need the deep scouring of nooks and crannies. For a thorough job, we need to gear up and prepare.

Before Rosh Hashanah, which is the beginning of the month of Tishrei, we have the month of Elul to prepare. A little bit of preparation every day of Elul gives us the clarity and stamina we need to make the most out of this holiday season. To get the desired results, a refreshed and tidied spiritual home, we should prepare like a runner would for a race: consistent training! Doing as little as 10 minutes of “spiritual training” each day, the Days of Awe become meaningful and real.

So welcome back from your myriad journeys of the past year! You have returned with a sizable log of experiences. Are you ready to decompress, to integrate your mistakes and your growth? Your gains and your losses? Your joys and your sufferings? For the first day of Elul, we begin with simply contemplating this idea of coming back, return, Teshuvah.

Today’s Elul Tool: Think of a metaphor/symbol/action for the process of return that truly speaks to you. Perhaps it is a train returning to the station. Or a train that has been derailed and is now back on track. Maybe the eventual return of a rain drop back to the ocean. Maybe the calm you feel when you return your attention to your breath. Or even returning a messy room to it’s original order. Today’s “assignment” is nothing more than thinking about an image of return. 

It is customary to read Psalm 27 twice daily during Elul. I've provided this online version of Psalm 27 for easy access.

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