Tonight begins the period of Selichot in the Jewish practise. Selichot, in Hebrew, means forgiveness. Selichot service begins a time that spans from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur. Metaphorically, the Gates of Heaven open up to welcome prayers of praise, appreciation, supplication and forgiveness. It is a time to reflect, with absolute humility, before God, and ask forgiveness for any wrongdoings we might have committed during the year. During these 10 days of ongoing contemplation, the Gates of Heaven remain open. The final service of Yom Kippur, Neilah, provides one last opportunity to be heard before the gates close. Prayers, music, poetry, prose and meditations, bring us deep within ourselves and focus on forgiveness and appreciation and change. These are the Days of Awe.
As I think about Selichot this year and connect with its’ meaning for me, I recognize the possibilities of awareness available to me. My Jewish background, recently enhanced with Yoga, meditation and Sanskrit chants, enhances my spiritual practise. Recognizing similarities between these different practises is rewarding. For instance, in Jewish prayer, we say “Amen” at the end of the prayer. That is a way to say: “Really and truly - I really mean it”. At the end of a Hindu chant, the final words are Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. The first recitation of Shanti is about self, the second is for family and close relations, and the third is for the universe. May we all find peace within, in our relationships, and in our world.
So Selichot for me this year is about the following:
Shanti #1- ultimately, I have to love myself. I reflect on my own integrity and find the love and compassion within that helps me accept and unconditionally love others. When I truly love myself, it is natural to reach out to others with love and compassion. I no longer feel the need to sympathize or even empathize with others. Just to listen and find compassion. There they too might find forgiveness.
Shanti #2- India Arie says in one of her songs “No one can hurt you like your kin”. I am finding more and more that when I hurt in my heart it is usually related to my immediate family. My role as mother, daughter, sister, wife, and cousin brings me my greatest joys, and my deepest pain.
I have made many mistakes in my various familial roles. At times I have been too young, too ignorant, or even too selfish to know how to ‘do the right thing’ with those whom I care about the most. Maybe, at times, I tried too hard, and created bad outcomes that might have been better to leave alone. Perhaps I have spoken words that were hurtful, and allowed my emotions to reign. I might even have caused damage that has become difficult to repair.
I can only ask for forgiveness. I cannot expect forgiveness because I might not receive forgiveness from those I ask. Again, I return to my own integrity. When others might stay angry with me, I have only myself as a reminder that I am a good person, that I love with openness and compassion and that it is never my intention to hurt my loved ones. That doesn’t mean I don’t. It just means I try not to, and sometimes I do anyway! For this, I am truly sorry. To move through this, I have to forgive myself, even if others don’t forgive me when I ask.
Shanti #3- I feel responsible for others in this world. I leave my arms and heart open for people who have difficulty trusting the world around them. I want to be a constant source of love and strength, obvious and bright, so others experience unconditional acceptance. That doesn’t mean that ‘everything is all right’. Sometimes it’s the love that could motivate an alcoholic to stop drinking, or a student to work more diligently, or a daughter or son to consider alternative behaviours in life. My quest to be ‘my brother’s (or sister’s)’ keeper is meant with only the best intentions. Even this has sometimes caused others pain. Sometimes those closest to me feel abandoned and forgotten.
Ultimately I seek love and compassion and want to be a loving and compassionate person. I strive to forego judgement and focus on the behaviour, not the person. “I don’t like what you’re doing, and I love you anyway!”
As we settle in to these Days of Awe I want to begin my transformation with simplicity. If I have done anything in this world that has hurt anyone or anything, I am truly sorry. I love myself enough to know that I can’t know everything. What I know for certain is that I am not perfect. I have made, make, and probably will continue to make big mistakes. I want to strive to be a good person, to find love within, to share it unconditionally with those closest to me, and to do what I can in this world to make it a better place.
Shana Tova, and G’mar Chatima Tova to everyone and everything, everywhere! Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.