The Hebrew month of Elul — which leads up to Rosh Hashanah — is when I like to take stock of my previous year, and a part of me feels like I say the same thing every single time: Heck of a year. Another part of me wonders if this is the year I’m actually really right, though. Because this year seems like it was exceptionally challenging.
And I don’t just mean for me. I’m no climate scientist, but it seems like this year has had more catastrophic fires, storms and earthquakes than feels normal, but I could be wrong. I’m no political analyst, but it seems the right and the left, the Democrats and Republicans and everyone in between, is going crazy, with corruption rampant everywhere we look. And I’m no therapist, but the mental health of this nation and the world at large is approaching staggering statistics as diseases of despair and loneliness strike younger and younger and with more and more fatal consequences. It seems there is not a community that cultural turmoil regarding race, class and gender has not threatened this year.
But also, for me, it’s been a heck of a year. The details of my personal life will remain for the most part personal, but my decision to not cross the WGA picket line, which continues to guide my career, has been subject to public scrutiny and it’s been a trying year emotionally. Of course, there have been many bright spots this year, for our nation, our world, and for each of us individually. Here’s a highlight: My older son finally got his driver’s license (at almost 18 — slow and steady wins the race!), which means I can send him to the market for yeast when my first attempt at challah fails. Also big news from this summer: Both of my sons had a beautiful Jewish summer camp experience — and are now taller than me!
But I know I am not alone in hoping for a less challenging year to come. As Rosh Hashanah approaches, I’m taking a closer look at what I want to shift as we enter 5784. Here’s what’s in store for me as the New Year is upon us, given the year we’ve all had and the year that stands waiting to be tackled. Maybe you’ll want to try out some of these changes, too.
Unplug. This is partly what led me to a two-week complete digital/phone/social media/social interaction detox just before Elul began. I detailed my main revelations on my YouTube channel, but the lessons I learned from that voluntary isolation have stayed with me and feel like my guiding principles not only for a detox, but for an entire perspective shift I think many of us are in need of.
I gained an understanding of myself that includes the fact that not everyone can manage the amount of information that comes at us from the current media world at the pace that we have been told is “normal.” I regained the gift of unstructured time, which led to a lot of creativity and the rediscovery of literature, poetry and intellectual stimulation that is not attached to a screen.
Unplugging is a Jewish notion in that Shabbat gives us that opportunity weekly, and I more and more seek to embrace the spirit of Shabbat: to focus at least one day a week to being a human being, and not a human doing. Unplugging is more critical than ever as we (and our children) increasingly spend hours of their lives plugged in. It’s a boundary I plan to hold them and myself to in 5784.
Slow down. I operate really well in black and white. I don’t really do grey. So in the past, when I worked — when I was plugged in — I would run hard and fast from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. Constant appointments, phone calls while driving to “personal” lunches or yoga class — every minute filled. I started using a wearable device that measures things like heart rate variability, recovery index and sleep patterns and I had a health scare this past year. It’s because I did not know what it meant to slow down. Now I know. It’s as simple as saying “no” to things I can’t do without rushing to or from them. It’s as complicated as tolerating the down time that results when you make space to think and wonder.
Dream. This is something children innately know how to do. Most of us adults forget how to do it, but it’s a critically thrilling and significant aspect of our human experience that we have been taught has no place in adult life. For those of us who spend time as artists and creatives, we have more “right” to dream, but I am a firm believer that even people who are “settled down” in life and are told that they have no time or reason to dream are precisely the people who need to do it most.
I’m not advocating for abdicating responsibility for your duties at home or at work, and I’m not suggesting you leave all that is secure and familiar. But I am suggesting you tap into the wonder of your childhood, no matter what that looks like. It might look like taking an art class. It might look like getting back to reading fiction or writing poetry or spending time in nature among flowers and trees. Whatever it looks like to step outside of your current reality is what dreaming is. We need more of it.
Find God – or something like it. I’ve held for a long time that everyone finds their own path and for many, that path doesn’t include religious belief. I know the pitfalls of organized religion, especially the monotheistic patriarchal variety. And I’ve known many “Godless” people with wonderful morals, a true sense of a path and a satisfying life. But as I continued to do the deepest therapeutic work of my life this past year, I found that for me, true healing — no matter what we have overcome or think we don’t need to deal with — comes from an exploration of one sort or another into the Divine.
For some, this might mean traditional ritual in a religious tradition. For others, it might mean learning about breathwork or meditation practices that seek to specifically get you in touch with something greater than yourself. I took up Kundalini yoga in the past few months and this practice, which I once considered “out there” and irrelevant to my life, has put me in touch with a sense of Oneness that has been a wonderful addition to my understanding of my place in the universe as a spiritual being.
Every year we get the opportunity to start again, to try again and to reinvent ourselves. It’s not a time to look back at the ways we have failed in self-criticism; rather, it is a time to look forward with a lens of hope, self-compassion and joy. Perhaps as we individually look with this lens, our ability to center ourselves, to slow down, to dream and to find inspiration from a power greater than ourselves, we can share hope, compassion and peace with our families, our communities, our nation and even the world. I believe it’s possible. If you will it, it is no dream.