On the perils of holiday menu-planning
New year's poem

Mikvah, expectations, and the blessing of failure

For a while I've been wanting a symbolic gesture to help myself move from the old year (and its attendant old patterns) into the new. I wanted to speak a few words of prayer, do something physical and then emerge newly-attuned to the potential wonders of the birthday of the world. I wanted, in a word, some kind of pre-Rosh Hashanah mikvah.

I did a bunch of reading, both external sources and my own notes on the practice of "spiritual mikvah" as I've experienced it at Elat Chayyim. I found the Ceremony for the New Year on the Immersions/sample ceremonies page at the website of Mayyim Hayyim, the transdenominational community mikvah in Boston. I decided to combine their words with the meditations of my own heart.

Over the course of several days I drafted the blog post I wanted to make this morning. It began with a fantastic epigraph about a Hasidic rebbe who, when unable for one reason or another to reach the mikvah, would substitute for it with the presence of his hasidim. There were vignettes about different mikvah experiences and ways of understanding the practice of mikvah: kosher and "spiritual" mikvah, pre-Shabbat and pre-wedding mikvah, the "sonic mikvah" I experienced once at Yom Kippur. I was excited about kicking off my morning-of-erev-Rosh-Hashanah this way, and proud of the blog post I'd written about it, too. (You can see where this is going, can't you?)

This morning I woke early and went to the hot tub room. I had printed the "Ceremony for the New Year," and laminated it so I could touch it while in the hot tub without ruining the paper. I had a glass of rainwater at-hand, to tip into the hot tub as a nod toward the need for mayimei chayyim, "living waters." I prayed for a moment about what I wanted the experience to do, what in the last year I wanted to let go of. I took a deep breath and opened the cover of the tub to find the water unquestionably too low for use.

It hasn't been cold enough to even consider using the hot tub in months. Though I checked it a few days ago to make sure the chemical balance was correct, I guess I didn't notice that the water level had dropped so far...until this morning.

I was deeply bummed. I walked away -- and then returned, determined to at least try. I climbed in. I read the words. I tried, awkwardly, for full immersion. I failed. And then I got out and took a hot shower, instead, a little bit sad that I didn't get to have the spiritually uplifting (and eminently blogworthy) experience I'd been looking for. Of course, there's a spiritual teaching even in this, and it may be a more important one than the one I was hoping to approach with my homegrown pre-holiday practice.

Expectations can really get one in trouble. When I invest a lot of energy into planning how I want something to go (and, more, what I want it to feel like), I run the risk not only of failing to meet my own expectations, but of shutting myself off from the alternate opportunities that might be before me.  But if I can find something to laugh about even in a spiritual experience manqué -- if I can be aware of the presence of God around me and within me even when I've just blown a chance at something I really wanted -- then I'm ready for the new year, whether or not I managed to precisely wash away the old.

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