Tonight begins Yom Kippur. Already it is ten days since the wake-up call of Rosh Hashanah, and the call of the shofar becomes more urgent. Tomorrow is the last day before the year turns. The month of Elul for repentance is ending, along with the Days of Awe for more intensively tending to our relationships and making amends. The energy builds to Yom Kippur day, focused on atonement. Communications with people need to be complete. Now we go deeper with self and God, in community, and humble ourselves to that which is greater. In that space, I feel called to make as honest a connection as I can with the force of life.
Weaving Jewish with Toltec (my two spiritual traditions) Yom Kippur is an annual conscious visit with the Angel of Death. The all-day ritual brings attention to the urgency of staying in touch with what really matters, because this day (any day) could be the last day. Pressure builds and the mood turns from joyful to somber, all in a theatrical, shamanic, community effort to help us make that pure connection, each year, from wherever we are.
Ten years ago, feeling miserable and sorry for myself, I received a great gift at Yom Kippur services (thanks to my divorce and words form Estelle Frankel). The teaching of opening stayed with me and established Yom Kippur as my favorite day to have a broken heart.
Right before YK that year, after many months of negotiating, trying and advocating for my partner to believe that our relationship could “work,” I accepted we were not going to stay together. Acceptance made me soften. Remorse rushed in. I felt acutely the pain of recognizing the ways in which I was responsible for our separation. As one part of me crumpled at the loss, my judge berated me for my misdeeds. Where I had been confident we could work it out, suddenly I was hopeless and contrite. Bottom line: I felt like I could feel really bad for a very long time.
In shul for YK with that emotional baggage, I saw what a massive opportunity was available in forgiveness. I could carry the weight forward for years, or I could shed it before the day was over! A spark lit at the thought that I could step into the next day/year having forgiven myself. Rather than ruling that I should be punished for X number of days, the tradition invited me to round up my energy and atone now.
I worked this challenge as well as I could, circling through layers from apologizing to her at the door of the shul, to identifying and offering forgiveness toward her, and then the hardest part, forgiving myself. The teaching Estelle offered before the sounding of the shofar was to let the shofar sound break my heart; then let that break take me open. I was already so viscerally in heartbreak, the teaching came in perfect timing. Whereas I was thinking I was terrible and that a terrible thing had happened, this perspective invited me to shine through brokenness and grow.
When the shofar was blown, that sound sailed me from pity and self-absorption to inspiration and resolve. A hard experience with heartbreak was what I needed to actually open my heart. For that, I am grateful.