Prepent Day 40: The End of the Journey

Journey into the High Holidays with Amichai Lau-Lavie, founder of Storahtelling and the spiritual leader of Lab/Shul. It’s a daily dose of inspiration to get you focused and ready for the new year, featuring daily intentions, simple tasks, and tools for living better.

Another journey ends as this new year now truly begins. This 40-day journey began on the first day of Elul, August 7—remember? We traveled through the four worlds: reflecting on the body, emotions, thoughts and spirit, taking time out to go within, refocus, and renew.

So nu? Renewed? I hope so. I am.

I’m so glad to have taken on these daily intentions, feeling infintely more focused and ready for the year ahead. I’m grateful to many of you who traveled with me and took the time to share feedback, questions, and thumbs up. It means a lot and has been so helpful to me through the struggles of this journey. (It’s not too late to share your reactions, highlights, and ideas for next year!)

I started the journey by weighing myself: What’s the net worth of my being on earth? Body, mind, and soul—what’s my footprint and what can be improved or changed. I weighed 176 pounds and committed to lose six. Today’s great news? Watch here:

In many other ways I felt like I was able to slow down, focus, fix some relationships, take on commitments, make amends, breathe deeply, and really pause.

Here’s to a year of more mindfulness and well-being, and taking better care of self and others. May all our journeys be blessings.

Shana Tova!

Follow along with the Scroll’s daily Prepent series here.

Prepent Day 39: Continuing Onward

Journey into the High Holidays with Amichai Lau-Lavie, founder of Storahtelling and the spiritual leader of Lab/Shul. It’s a daily dose of inspiration to get you focused and ready for the new year, featuring daily intentions, simple tasks, and tools for living better.

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The day after! It offers relief and a great sense of accomplishment. We did it! Another year, another tear; moving on with life. Yom Kippur this year was a huge high for me. And although so many highs are often followed by a low, I want to make sure I keep up my momentum and maintain my focus in the coming days.

Jewish tradition helps with that goal. The first thing one is encouraged to do once Yom Kippur is over is to start building a sukkah. It’s a temporary shelter, a symbolic home, and a shrine to the transient here and now.

On this second-to-last day of our journey towards a more focused and present self, I pause to honor the journey, grateful for my learning along the way and committed to upholding at least one of my new year intentions, nailing it to the wall of my sukkah.

Prepent Day 39: Take a moment to build, fix, or create something—if only symbolically—that represents the shelter and sacred protection you want over your head and in your heart for the year ahead. Pause to celebrate gratitude, honoring this lucky life. Here’s a lovely poem by Gerald Stern to help jumpstart our journey on the shore of the new year:

Dear waves, what will you do for me this year?
Will you drown out my scream?
Will you let me rise through the fog?
Will you fill me with that old salt feeling?
Will you let me take my long steps in the cold sand?
Will you let me lie on the white bedspread and study the black clouds with the blue holes in them?
Will you let me see the rusty trees and the old monoplanes one more year?
Will you still let me draw my sacred figures and move the kites and the birds around with my dark mind?
Lucky life is like this.
Lucky there is an ocean to come to.
Lucky you can judge yourself in this water.
Lucky you can be purified over and over again.
Lucky there is the same cleanliness for everyone.
Lucky life is like that.
Lucky life. Oh lucky life.

One more day to go.

Follow along with the Scroll’s daily Prepent series here.

Prepent Day 38: Here I Am

Journey into the High Holidays with Amichai Lau-Lavie, founder of Storahtelling and the spiritual leader of Lab/Shul. It’s a daily dose of inspiration to get you focused and ready for the new year, featuring daily intentions, simple tasks, and tools for living better.

Imagine a long line, like those at a government office or a crowded airport, where one by one our number flashes or our name gets called out and we step up to meet of the person in charge of processing.

That is, in a mystical bureaucratic way, one way to describe the inner dynamics of Yom Kippur. One by one we stand there and declare our data, digits, doubts, and delights: “Here I am.”

“Here I am”—hineni in Hebrew—is the key word for me on this day, and on all others too.

One of the most memorable elements of my childhood Yom Kippurs is the whisper of the man who led the prayers at our little synagogue in Israel. Mr. Kahana wasn’t a cantor with a big voice but a humble teacher with a big soul. He would rise to the Musaf prayer and chant the first words in a whisper: hineni he’ani mimmas—here I am, standing in the poverty of my achievements.

Here I am. Taking time on this day to take stock of my life and recommit to a life of honesty, balance, more focus, and more joy. I take today to acknowledge my shortcomings, figure out where I can do betterm and how I can do more for myself and others this coming year.

If only one word is on our lips and in our hearts today let it be hineni. Here I am. Even the president says so. In this moving short video, released this week and making the rounds online, President Obama reminds us that the Jewish legacy is to take our personal experiences and use them for good in the world.

Take time today to close your eyes and ask yourself what is life’s call this year to which you will rise and answer, ‘Here I am.’ Here we are, together.

Follow along with the Scroll’s daily Prepent series here.

Prepent Day 37: The Feast before the Fast

Journey into the High Holidays with Amichai Lau-Lavie, founder of Storahtelling and the spiritual leader of Lab/Shul. It’s a daily dose of inspiration to get you focused and ready for the new year, featuring daily intentions, simple tasks, and tools for living better.

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On the day before the fast, we feast.

Two years ago, as the sun began to set over the Hudson River, I sat down to for a pre-fast feast. I ate a banana and two dates—that’s what you get on a raw food week. This year, since I’m back on the raw routine for one more day, I think I’ll eat a mango and some green beans. Slowly, and with intention.

For many of us, the pre-fast meal is a festive occasion and a serious gastro-Judaic art. In mystical traditions this eating is as sacred and meaningful as the fasting that will follow. How we eat today reflects on our eating past and future.

In almost childlike simplicity the Jewish tradition reminds us each year on this day of the cycles of our lives: daily hungers and fulfillment, lifelong longings and gifts. Perhaps this annual repetition exists to remind us how to be more fully present.

Fasting challenges our comfort zone and our will power. It realigns us in our bodies. The full Kippur cycle includes the eating that both precedes and follows the fast. An invitation to pause and honor what is, be grateful for what we have, and become more aware of the hunger and needs of others.

Prepent, Day 37:  Feast, slowly and with pleasure, without thinking of the fast ahead. Pause to appreciate all the nourishment of this past year. And, if possible, feed someone else.

Bon appetit. Betavon. To an easy fast, with meaningful moments—may we feast and fast with mindfulness and an open heart. (And, for the record, wisely or not, I plan to continue my tradition of breaking the fast with a double shot of superb single malt—and a blessing.)To life.

Gmar Chatima Tovah.

Follow along with the Scroll’s daily Prepent series here.

Prepent Day 36: Rituals of Atonement

Journey into the High Holidays with Amichai Lau-Lavie, founder of Storahtelling and the spiritual leader of Lab/Shul. It’s a daily dose of inspiration to get you focused and ready for the new year, featuring daily intentions, simple tasks, and tools for living better.

 

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The day before Yom Kippur is rich with different traditions, each which can seem stranger than the next. There’s Kapparot—from the same root as the word kippur—a ritual in which live chickens or roosters (it’s a gender-specific ritual) are swung over one’s head and then killed as replacement, or substitution, for one’s own death. Some use live fish instead. My father used a check book when I was growing up. It never made sense to me.

Then there’s the flogging, which still goes on today in some communities though it’s definitely not as popular as it used to. Men flog each other with leather whips on the eve of Kippur, usually in synagogue, as a way to atone for their (often sexually related) sins. The 39 lashes, administered by a special whip used only for this occasion, remind the flogged and flogger of their sins and serve as punishment—again, in place of any bigger potential punishment by God.

For the record, I’ve never flung a chicken or flogged a friend as part of my Prepenting but I’ll admit that I’m curious, and I think I understand why these visceral rituals are still alive and well today, if only in limited circles.

It has to to do with blood, with death, with actual actions and not just words or a polite fist on your chest. Even if the lashes are symbolic (or so they say) and the chicken is not killed before one’s very eyes, the psycho-physical reality is real and in your face, above your head and on your skin. It’s just like Alan Lew wrote, “this IS real—and we are completely unprepared.” The shock value of these rituals is to shake us out of our complacence, remind us of mortality, fragility, and our own lives.

Maybe next year I’ll get around to trying these traditions, but this year my symbolic equivalent is a votive candle big enough to last for 48 hours or more. The wick is my soul, the wax is my body, the flame is my life, the match is the moment, and the light is my being. The candle is my symbol for the life and death that are part of who I am. Lighting the wick with intention tonight will be my way to symbolize mortality and fragility, and being fully present in the here and now.

Yahrtzeit candle? Something scented perhaps? Personalize at will. A perpetual flame lit in a sacred spot at home into the day and night of Atonement will remind us of all that’s precious—the pains, and the pleasure, and the Prepent journey that has led us day by day into the threshold of the holy, humble, and honest.

Follow along with the Scroll’s daily Prepent series here.