We will be meditating tomorrow, Wednesday, October 5, on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Although I didn’t grow up observing this holiday, I like to reflect on elements of it from the perspective of contemplative awareness or wisdom. In fact, the word contemplate comes from a root that means to come inside the temple. This can mean to enter the temple of the body/mind, to look and see within.
The root meaning of atonement in English is “at one.” The traditional observation of this Jewish holy day involves fasting and prayer, and not wearing leather shoes (which I like to think of as touching the earth with your feet, not simply substituting sneakers). Also offering forgiveness and charity–which I like to think of as opening the field of our awareness, offering ourselves and others the gift of a forgiving awareness. We can think of this as forgiving in the way that cozy clothes are forgiving–soft and roomy, welcoming us in all our states. When we meditate we touch a natural awareness that is naturally forgiving, not in the sense of making excuses or arguing our cases, but in letting things be as they are. Letting ourselves be human, flawed, full of regrets even, but still beloved on the earth.
One Yom Kippur, at a particularly low point in my life, I saw a group of Jews, the men in black hats, the women in long dresses, scattering bread on the water. It was explained to me that they were casting away the sins of the previous year. Later that day, I stood at water’s edge and cast away the story of sorrow and regret that I was carrying, giving it to the water and earth and air. I felt as if I was letting go of clinging to a burden that separated me from life I felt enlightened…literally lighter.
Who are we without our stories? Don’t worry, they return. We are story-telling creatures, endlessly updating our narratives. But we can also practice just being human beings, not special or apart but open to a greater awareness. Together and alone, we can practice opening to a greater oneness.