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!