Today is Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the year according to the Jewish calendar, when a ram’s horn is blown to announce the possibility to begin again. 

I find it easier to reflect where I can see nature doing the same (photo by JC Enciso)

Each new month — and the new year — launches with a new moon, the first lunar phase when the moon is invisible.  (Although I grew up believing that the Jewish calendar was lunar, I just learned that it’s actually lunisolar — somewhat in between the purely lunar Muslim calendar and solar Gregorian one. This ensures that Rosh Hashana always falls in the autumn, and other holidays in their season. Cool!)

One of my favorite teachers, Gershon Winkler (rabbi, shaman and all-around troublemaker) offers a way of looking at the new year:

“Shanah” literally translates not only as “year” in Hebrew but at its root connotes “transformation, ” and indeed as autumn approaches so does the challenge of personal and communal transformation. Outside, the colors of the leaves are beginning to change, as is the temperature, and the aroma in the air. The twelfth-century Kabbalist Rabbi Avraham ben Dovid taught: “With change in the seasons of Nature comes as well change in the seasons of the soul.”

Seasonal changes, Judaism teaches, are not phenomena confined to what goes on outside of us in what we glibly refer to as Nature, but they affect us just as dramatically deep inside our hearts. The purpose of the High Holyday services, then, are not to torture congregants with hours of prayer but to help them midwife new paradigms in their lives, spiritual, physical, emotional and otherwise; to help coach the birthing of something magically new and refreshingly alive in the year to come.

Autumn with its brisk breezes and abundant harvests begins the turning inward and grounding down that is necessary to digest the richness of our lives. For that reason, ’tis the season of the element of earth in Chinese medicine (and air, or vata, in Ayurveda and yoga, which wants grounding to bring in a sense of harmonic balance to things we’re trying to get done before winter makes us settle in for a while).

As we find ourselves on the precipice of a new season, you might commit to making time in your day to be in nature daily — it could be something as simple as caring for a houseplant, playing with a dog, doing pigeon pose, or meditating on what and whom it is that you belong to.  Turning inwards — toward the earth, toward that solid, stable self within you will often surprise you with how much more integrity you can be in when you find yourself outwardly focused.  Along those lines, I leave you with a poem about the new year and about reflecting within to act clearly and courageously without.

The Birthday of the World
— Marge Piercy

On the birthday of the world
I begin to contemplate
what I have done and left
undone, but this year
not so much rebuilding
of my perennially damaged
psyche, shoring up eroding
friendships, digging out
stumps of old resentments
that refuse to rot on their own.
No, this year I want to call
myself to task for what
I have done and not done
for peace. How much have
I dared in opposition?
How much have I put
on the line for freedom?
For mine and others?
As these freedoms are pared,
sliced and diced, where
have I spoken out? Who
have I tried to move? In
this holy season, I stand
self-convicted of sloth
in a time when lies choke
the mind and rhetoric
bends reason to slithering
choking pythons. Here
I stand before the gates
opening, the fire dazzling
my eyes, and as I approach
what judges me, I judge
myself. Give me weapons
of minute destruction. Let
my words turn into sparks.

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