Mindfulness — the practice of listening, paying attention, waking up to the present moment — is exactly what the Days of Awe call us to do.
Even if we are just recognizing it, mindfulness has always been a traditional part of the Jewish High Holidays.
It is not an exotic ritual we have to fit it in to our prayers. It is not something extra we have to add on. The meditation and movement that are part of mindfulness may not be traditional components of our liturgy, but mindfulness — the practice of listening, paying attention, waking up to the present moment — is exactly what the Days of Awe call us to do. It is their very essence.
Our tradition teaches that the essential mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah is to listen, to hear the calls of the shofar and to let them awaken us to the truths of life.
The shofar sounds: This is your life, right here, right now. How will you live?
The world is filled with brokenness and pain, joys and delights. How will you meet each experience?
You are all here for the sake of each other: What is yours to do? What is yours to give?
This paying attention, this waking up to our lives, right here, right now, is mindfulness practice.
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we ask the haunting question again and again: Who will live and who will die?
And the answer, of course, is all of us. These holy days want us to remember that everything changes and passes and this life we are living is a precious and fragile gift. Our holy days remind us with great intensity that it is up to us to choose how we will live. We are each here for a short time — are we living what we most value? Are we living what we most love?
This awareness is mindfulness practice.
Salachti k’dvarecha, I forgive you, as you have asked. We chant these words at Kol Nidre. Yet even though God, the Mystery, the Infinite says to us, “I forgive you as you have asked,” we spend all evening and the entire next day proclaiming, “But I did this wrong, I caused this pain, I messed up yet again.”
And the Mystery responds: “You are forgiven as you have asked. You are loved. You are cherished. You are free to begin again.”
Mindfulness practice teaches us to forgive by helping us become aware that we are all doing the best we can in each moment. If we could have done better, we would have. Mindfulness practice encourages us to approach ourselves and each other with compassion and understanding. We all fall short, we all make mistakes and cause pain.
Rather than beating ourselves up yet again, it is acknowledging our own and each other’s vulnerabilities and pain with compassion and understanding — that is the way toward growth and possibility. Placing compassion, love and forgiveness on our hearts is mindfulness practice.
Avinu Malkeinu: “Our source, our guide, help us, show us the way.” On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we call out for guidance. In this life, we all will get lost, we all will go astray. And it is the noticing that we are lost and the asking for guidance that are the first steps toward return.
This, too, is mindfulness practice: Discerning where we have gone astray so as to return sooner and with greater ease.
Mindfulness practice helps us realize that we are connected to each and every being on this miraculous journey through life. We are here for the sake of each other, for the well being of all.
These are the gifts of our Days of Awe. These holy days call: Stop, notice, pay attention. Listen to your own hearts. Listen to the hearts of the world. Use your precious gift of life for beauty and love. Live with compassion and understanding for your own sake and for the sake of the generations who will call you “ancestor.”
May we enter into the New Year mindfully, bringing forth awareness and love.
Rabbi Yael Levy leads A Way In Jewish Mindfulness, an organization she developed in her role serving as a part-time rabbi at Mishkan Shalom Reconstructionist congregation. Find a listing of public programs at: mishkan.org/awi.