Last night, during the Kol Nidre service at my parents' synagogue, the rabbi led the congregation in a unique writing exercise. He spoke of our tendency to hold our shame and guilt in our hearts and pressed that Yom Kippur is an opportunity to let all of it go. In the wooden pocket in front of each seat was an envelope containing an index card and a golf pencil. He encouraged us to write on the index card the thing of which we are most ashamed. Our words would be read the following morning at Yom Kippur services.
I'm a writer, so it would figure that this would be right up my alley, but all I could do was pinch the tiny pencil in my fingers and stare blankly at the index card. Eventually I scribbled something about not being truthful to myself and stuffed the card back into its envelope. It wasn't that I couldn't think of anything I feel guilty or ashamed about--quite the opposite, in fact. Were I to write honestly, I could have easily covered my entire index card with guilty confessions. Surely, there could not be enough index cards in America to hold all the ways in which I've missed the mark. I feared that writing honestly of my pent-up guilt would open the floodgates, pushing me out to sea.
I really like my parents' rabbi, but I wasn't sure I bought his suggestion that through teshuvah, (repentance), my shame could be released. That this knot in my stomach could begin to untie and the perpetual heaviness in my chest could lighten on this holy day.
It sometimes feels as though my guilt is as much a part of my body as my eyes, my skin, my bones. It is second nature, both literally and figuratively. I judge myself much more harshly than I would ever judge another person--much more harshly than I suspect others judge me.
This morning, during the Yom Kippur morning service, the congregation's confessions were read. As I listened to the community's declarations of the ways in which they fell short in the past year, I was moved by the pure honesty of the contributions, as well as the way in which I felt just a little bit less alone in my own shame. Much of what was read were things that I, too, feel badly about. Knowing that there were others sitting in the same room as I with shared guilt and shame made it seem just a tiny bit more plausible that release was a possibility.
The rabbi spoke of how we must practice teshuvah not just with God and others--asking for and giving forgiveness--but also with ourselves. I think that might be my biggest challenge. I am good at forgiving others, finding ways to be empathetic, but when it comes to forgiving myself, I sometimes turn away, cold and mean.
So right now I'm examining what it might look like to ask myself for forgiveness--and to, in turn, find within my heart a way to give it freely.
To release it, if you will.