Week 4

I hope that this fourth week of writing will be filled with discovery and meaningful insight, and that the coming weeks of the holidays themselves will be enriched by the hard good spiritual work you’ve done this month.  I suggest you can continue working with these prompts throughout the holidays – doing further writing, perhaps taking your notebook with you to synagogue on Yom Kippur and reading through the questions and insights with which you have been occupying yourself in preparation for the Days of Awe.

 

Prompts for Week 4

~ On Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the birth of the world, experiencing God as Creator.  What new world do you envision for yourself in the coming year? Allow yourself to fantasize, dream.

follow-up – Consider how you are a creator – what is your creative life and what do you want it to be? How can you infuse your daily life with freshness, with wonder? What new interest, new passion, will keep your brain alive and supple this year?

~ Another central theme of Rosh Hashanah focuses on Zichronot/Remembrances of loss. We experience so many different kinds of losses in any given year – a beloved who has died; a relationship that ended, badly or well; a hope or dream whose time has irrevocably passed and needs to be honored, mourned.  Sometimes it is possible to find healing, a sense of peace, sometimes the loss never fully heals. What has been one particular powerful loss you are experiencing? Tell the story – what was precious, how have you mourned? changed? Where are you now?

~ The shofar blasts evoke multiple meanings – calling us to revelation, heralding redemption; it is the animal cry of “the wounded beast” that cracks our hearts open to teshuvah/repentance, the primal call waking us from our slumber.  What causes your spiritual somnolence?  How can you tell when you are sleepwalking? Who in your life will help rouse you when they see you fall asleep? 

~ Identify two or three people in your life who can serve as teachers/mentors for you – perhaps a rabbi, a spiritual director, a counselor, a friend, a loved one – choose one or two individuals and schedule regular time to meet with them.  When you feel ready, discuss with them your hopes for yourself this year, your fears, your concerns, your goals.  Invite them to listen, to witness, to support your desire to be your truest self in the coming year.

~ Write a tefillat haderech for yourself - a traveling prayer for the road - for the journey of this new year.

I feel honored to have guided you through this journey and am eager to hear about your experience of doing this writing and reflection. I would be grateful if you would use the Contact page to offer feedback on this course. What was especially meaningful and why? How often did you write and in what other ways did you engage with the materials? Did you wind up writing with a partner or a group? What did you struggle with? A particular question for clergy - how might this program be of greater help to you? And finally, a question for all - what kinds of programs would you be interested in my offering going forward? 

If you have found this resource valuable, please visit the Donate page to make a contribution to the site.  I invite you to continue to visit Derekh.org throughout the year as my husband Eddie and I offer podcasts, online courses, guest teachers, poetry readings and a host of materials of interest to clergy and lay seekers.

I end as I began, with gratitude. Thank you to Marc Silverman whose tech support was very helpful at a crucial juncture; and inexpressible ongoing appreciation to our webmaster, Lisa Feld, for all she provided to birth this project and on all aspects of Derekh - her competence, patience, kindness and creativity are unparalleled.

Finally, appreciation to each of you who participated. May you be inscribed and sealed for a sweet new year of health and promise!  Shana tova umetuka

Week 3

Welcome to the third week of Elul writing. I hope that you’ve been able to find the right rhythm in your days and week that allows for a satisfying and meaningful practice. I also want to appreciate and congratulate you for doing what is often hard, courageous work – sitting down to find yourself on the page, exploring inner voices and truths, perhaps coming to know yourself in a new and different way. 

Special urging this week to listen to the audio guide – you’ll need it to understand some of the prompts.

 

Prompts for Week 3

* In the poem “Mazel Tov!” (listen to the accompanying audio) an individual goes out on a limb and transforms a public moment. Remember a particular time when you were present for a situation that was missing its deeper potential – a Shabbat dinner? Thanksgiving gathering? baby naming? neighborhood picnic? Did you do something to help the moment realize its potential? If so, what was it you did? If not, what held you back? How could you give yourself permission to rise to such occasions?

* Consider the many communities of which you are a part – perhaps a regular study or meditation circle, synagogue or havurah, a political or civic group, workplace or professional association, school, sports team, etc.  In which realms have you been active this past year? Choose one community in particular and one of the following prompts to focus your writing –

How is this community a source of meaning for you? What are the particular strengths, gifts you contribute?  What might be a growing edge for you and the group in the coming year?  

[or]

What has been your role in this group? How do others view you? What might you like to change about how you are in this community? Is there anyone there with whom you need to do teshuvah?  What might you need to do or say?

* Get proximate to the problem. Get close to the things that matter, get close to the places where there is inequality and suffering, get close to the spaces where people feel oppressed, burdened, and abused… See what it does to your capacity to make a difference, see what it does to you. - Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of Equal Justice Initiative; initiator of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery AL

When have you gotten “proximate to the problem”?  What was “the problem”?  What qualities of yours allowed you to get close?  What happened?  How did you change, grow?

[or]

When have you felt an impulse to get “close to a problem” but wound up feeling unable to do so? What were the obstacles? Notice if there’s a punishing or judgmental tone – can you tell the story from the place of compassion? 

* Consider the range of local, national and global problems. What are your particular strengths and how might you creatively harness them to contribute to tikkun olam in one of these areas of concern?

follow-up – I doubt that efforts to address societal problems can meet with much success when undertaken solo – With what admired friend[s] or mentor[s] would you like to stand “shoulder to shoulder” in tikkun olam work? What might you hope to do with them?


May your courage and openness be strengthened by this Elul work and may it be a hallmark of your day-to-day life and spiritual practice in the coming year! 

Week 2

Welcome to the second week of my month-long writing workshop for Elul. If you’re just joining in now, you might want to look at and listen to last week’s post to get oriented (see below for Week 1). If you began your participation last week, I hope that your writing went well and that you managed to reserve small spaces in the days to luxuriate in rare precious time just for you. I want to take a moment to extend encouragement and congratulations to you for doing what is often hard, courageous work – sitting down to find yourself on the page, exploring inner voices and truths, perhaps coming to know yourself in a new and different way. 

May your courage and openness be strengthened by this Elul work and may it be a hallmark of your day to day life and spiritual practice in the coming year!

 

Week 2 prompts

 

~ Remember, tell the story of, a special moment this past year, one of deep connection, a moment when you felt especially blessed by the relationship with a loved one, when you felt full of rejoicing, praising God: What were the circumstances, the details, of that relational moment?

follow-up – Reflect on that experience – what did you do to help make that happen? How might you be attentive to creating more such moments in the coming year?

~ Think of your family and closest friends: are you conscious of ways in which you may have harmed any of them, caused them pain in the past year, fallen short of the mark?  How?  Choose just one person to focus on: what is the regret or guilt you feel toward this person?  What do you want the relationship to be like?  What can you do to make amends, bring about change? 

~ Has anyone sinned against you this year? Focus on a particular person who has caused you harm – how did they hurt you?  Do you want to continue this relationship, and if so, what do you want the relationship to be like? What do you need from them to support repair?  Is there something you can do to help bring about that change, healing, justice, reconciliation?

follow-up – Perhaps that won’t be possible, perhaps not even appropriate – if so, how might you help yourself to find inner peace and move on?

~ To whom do you feel grateful this year? Who has shown you compassion, kindness – a word, an embrace, a sign of appreciation or support? Remember and describe the goodness of others who have helped you through the year. How might you show your gratitude? Recall also your own goodness this past year – what are special kindnesses you have shown to others? How can you cultivate that inner goodness as you go forward?

Week 1

Preparing for the Days of Awe - A Writing Practice for Elul

I’m excited and humbled to begin this month with you - it calls for a shehecheyanu, the prayer which expresses deep gratitude for reaching this moment in one’s life. And so I begin with gratitude and prayer.

I sit here in my study in Western Massachusetts, quiet, peaceful, only the sound of cars going by, lush greens outside the windows, and I imagine where you are, what you hear, what you see. Many of you are old friends of mine, many more are unknown to me - yet together, over the course of the next four weeks, we’ll be exploring ever-widening circles of our lives. It’s like davening in a minyan - each of us on our own, but each quietly offering companionable energy to the others.

In these weeks there will be time to expand, to reflect, to find words, to remember the year which is coming to an end, the events and people who were most important, to look back on them and puzzle out, discern – What happened? Who was I in that moment? How did I turn that moment for the good? Or not? What needs attention, perhaps healing, in my closest relationships? There will be time to look inward and time to look outward – How am I living in my body?  Who am I in my community/ies, who do I want to be?  Does my life day to day reflect my values, encourage my passion?   How am I engaged in the larger world?  What do I want to give, how do I want to help and participate in a wider healing?

This first week centers on the self – when do I feel most alive? How have I been challenged and grown this year? How do I cultivate my inner life? engage in self-care?

And so, we begin! 

A few suggestions –

If you possibly can, write by hand, even if that feels very unfamiliar to you – computers go quickly, quickly; this writing is all about slowly, slowly. But if writing by hand doesn’t work for you, feel free to use your laptop.

When you are sitting with the prompt, listen carefully.  This writing is all about listening – listening to yourself.

Often the first response that comes to mind is the most fruitful.  Just relax and go with it even if you think it is odd.

As you write, capture as clearly and precisely as you can what is true for you – no artifice, no disguises. 

Be specific, concrete; better to tell one story and go deep with it than to generalize or to skim over multiple examples.

Be on the lookout for strong images that come up, meaningful details. Be curious; follow the image and explore it even if you don’t quite understand why it’s important or where it is going.

Write in your first language; that is the best way to make a heart-connection through words. 

Once you are done writing, take a breath, read what you have written.  Do not criticize or judge – these are words from your heart that need to be valued, cherished and respected.

You may want to write down any questions that the writing has sparked for you.  You can return to those questions at another time for reflection and/or for continued writing. 

In some way, acknowledge to yourself the courage and openness you have brought to this work.

 

Prompts for Week 1

~ Recall a situation, conjure an image of a time this past year when you felt good about who you are, when your best, fullest self was being expressed.  Maybe it was a public moment, an achievement, or maybe it was something small, subtle, something private only you were aware of…  Tell the story, describe the situation, letting the details return to you in all their fullness….

 follow-up – Now reflect on why/how the best part of you came out in that situation.  What did you do to make that happen?  Were there other people or conditions that supported that flowering? How might you call forth that more fully realized, enlivened “you” more often in the coming year?

~ Begin a conversation with yourself – “What are some of the questions I need to be asking myself in this season of turning in order to move toward a healthier, holier, happier life?”

~ What has been a particular challenge this year?  What was hard about it for you?  How have you grown, changed because of it?  What new aspects or potentiality has it called forth from you?

~ How did you live in your body this year? Are there ways in which your body has been a source of delight? disappointment? strength? pain? Tell the story.  What do you need moving forward?

~ How have you cared for yourself this year? Think expansively – remember when you did a good job of saying “no” – how did you manage it? how did it feel? Or, describe how you allowed yourself a special day, perhaps a vacation, to relish longed for solo time or time with a loved one.

follow-up – Make a list of all the ways you nourish yourself – things you do every day, things you do sometimes, rarely. Read your list over, notice what you’d like to increase.  What is your attitude toward self-care and what kinds of self-care are you hungry for? 

Note - My intention for this program is to offer you a wide menu from which to choose, so if one of these prompts feels like “a full-course meal” all by itself, give yourself permission to spend the week delving into that particular prompt, each time encountering it anew and writing about a different experience. In other words, make yourself at home and use these materials as is best for you!

Blessings to you on your journey!

Welcome to Elul

Welcome to my Elul Spiritual Writing Workshop. Elul, the Hebrew month which precedes the High Holiday season, offers an opportunity to begin digging deep, looking back on the year which is ending, looking back on how you lived in the year, discerning what can be learned from high moments and painful moments, and then mindfully imagining who you can continue becoming in the year ahead, aligning your day-to-day life with the center of who you are.

To support and facilitate this soul-searching, I will be providing a new set of writing prompts each Sunday from September 1 through September 22 to stir your memory and help you begin the process of teshuvah/ turning, which is at the heart of the Yamim Noraim/Days of Awe. I will send you a weekly email with a link to the newest prompts, or if you’ve missed a week, you can find links to all the previous prompts below.

Advice – in advance of Sunday September 1, buy a new notebook, one with pages large enough to stretch out thoughts and feelings. Why a notebook? Why write by hand? I’ll explain that along the way.

Each week you will receive a variety of prompts - you may choose to write on just one prompt or all, you may write once or twice during the week or each day – the choice is yours. You may want to do this writing solo, or choose a friend with whom to process the experience, or perhaps create a real-time group to write together and process. I encourage you to listen to the audio files each week to help orient you as you begin to experience the practice of spiritual writing, the rhythm of Elul, and for a host of suggestions to guide you on this journey.

Hodesh tov – wishing you a good month, and shana tova – wishing you a year of blessing.

Links to previous weeks’ prompts: