Five Ways to Be More Present at the High Holidays



Have you ever been sitting at a Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur service and asked yourself, "Why am I feeling somewhat distant from the wording of these prayers?" Or, "Why do I feel so distracted here and the service is so lengthy?"

You are not alone in these feelings. As a psychotherapist and author, I've heard from thousands of diverse Jews who told me privately that they felt bored or fidgety at times during High Holiday services.

Fortunately, there are ways to connect more deeply with the profound themes and insights in the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgy. Here are a few easy-to-utilize steps that may make the Days of Awe more meaningful for you:

· Let the Music Move You: The services will come alive if you allow the beautiful melodies and intense sounds of the shofar to take you to a place of profound waking up. Rather than focusing on what people are wearing or whose kids are misbehaving, make sure to let yourself be lifted up by the melodies that connect each of us with hundreds of years of passionate Jews pouring out their feelings at similar services during pleasant years or tragic years. As you listen closely, imagine yourself surrounded by many generations of ancestors asking you lovingly, "Nu, how are you? How is your beautiful soul navigating this complicated world that is so challenging?"

· Do Some Personal Preparation: During the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, pick a phrase or a theme from the High Holiday prayerbook that makes you curious about the mysteries of life or how to help your soul do some good in large or small ways.

Rather than getting annoyed by certain phrases in the prayerbook, choose instead to focus on themes that inspire and motivate you in the days prior to the High Holidays. For example, what is a vow you made in the past year (to yourself, to a loved one or to someone at work) and that you now realize you haven't fully kept? What will it take for you to change that vow and create something new that is much more likely to be kept?

· Take Charge of Your Breathing and Your Focus: I've found in my life and in counseling that one of the best ways to get more insights from services is if you notice your breathing whenever possible and to say silently, "Hineini, here I am," a powerful focusing phrase that you can utilize whenever you feel distracted.

If you remember to breathe smoothly and fully as you say these words, you may start to be less stressed and more centered not only at High Holiday services but also throughout the rest of the year.

· Let Your Heart Speak Your Deepest Truth: At various points during services, you will be given the opportunity to say out loud or to speak silently the truths, the concerns and the aspirations in your heart.

Whether you are a strong believer in a loving Presence or you wrestle with doubts, these services ask you to admit honestly, "This is where I have missed the mark," "This is what I notice and appreciate about the gifts in my life" and "This is what I am longing to improve in the coming year."

· Look for Opportunities for Progress, Not Perfection: One of the beautiful things about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is that in Judaism we are given the chance to wake up anew, to ask for guidance, and to improve how we are dealing with our toughest personal, family and work-related challenges. But we are not being asked to be perfect, nor are we condemned for being human and struggling.

As you sit in services, make sure to treat yourself with lovingkindness and see if you can connect with the Source of Lovingkindness that may flow through your heart not only on these holy days but throughout the coming year. May it be a good and healthy year for you.

Leonard Felder, Ph.D., is the author of 12 books, including Here I Am: Using Jewish Spiritual Wisdom to Become More Present, Centered, and Available for Life.


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