In the traditional understanding, one of my teachers noted recently, we make teshuvah to correct aveirahs, sins or misdeeds. It's easy to be abstract about this, but far more valuable to be concrete. So the question arises, for what aveirahs do I aspire to do teshuvah this year?
My first answer involves missed opportunities for mindfulness. I begin my days with modah ani, but it doesn't take long for me to forget all the things I'm grateful for. I get distracted. I slip into the familiar habits of anxiety and stress. I lose sight of the miracles of each day, and miss opportunities for relationship and transformation.
Probing deeper, I think patterns can be aveirahs. Maybe it's a pattern of
relating to a particular person in a particular way, somebody who
pushes my buttons or with whom I have
baggage. I might aspire to begin a new kind of relationship, but if
I don't unpack the pattern of the old relationship I'm liable to
recreate it. The same goes for my relationship with money, with work, with my body.
So, then, if I commit myself to mindfulness, if I strive to find holiness in every day, if I vow to relinquish my negative attachments and patterns and to seek equanimity, is that enough? It seems insufficient, somehow. There's a larger world out there, and this focus on my issues and relationships and blockages seems paltry, a kind of self-centered navel-gazing.
Then again, I believe that microcosm and macrocosm are inextricably linked -- that the spiritual work I do within myself has the capacity to be reflected and magnified in supernal realms. And perhaps digging through my own internal stuff is a necessary prerequisite to working on the world at large.
And maybe the self/world dichotomy presumes a false either/or mentality: maybe the real task is finding a paradigm that includes the needs of both. As in the parable about keeping two slips of paper in one's pockets -- one which reads "for my sake was the world created," and one which reads "I am dust" -- maybe there's teshuvah in learning when to focus on one slip, and when on the other, and when to open one's hands and let them both go.