Elul is the month of the Jewish calendar immediately preceding Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It’s 29 days long and falls during August and September. Traditionally, Elul is a time to reflect on the past year and prepare for the new one with renewed commitment and purpose. It’s not about making fluffy resolutions like “get organized” or “exercise more.” Rather, it’s a time to ruminate about our successes and failures and how we can transform ourselves for the better going forward.
A few years ago, I signed up to get Elul thinking/writing prompts from an old friend of mine who is now a rabbi. Every night, he sends a beautiful e-mail, usually with a story from his life, a rabbinic teaching, or a relevant quote. Each e-mail ends with a prompt encouraging some particular reflection or action.
I absolutely love reading these e-mails and always start the process with enthusiasm. For one thing, the timing really appeals to me. I haven’t been a student in years, but I still feel inspired by the potential of a new school year and the opportunity for a fresh start. It gives me extra energy at work and the motivation to dig into more projects. (I have a first grader to buy brand new notebooks for now, so I can get really literal about this!) Typically, I diligently write the first few journal entries, then start to miss a few, and ultimately wind up with a glut of unread e-mails. I skim them at bedtime, making a weak attempt to piece together some coherent thoughts before falling asleep.
I’m busy and tired, juggling work and other commitments like everyone else. But lack of time isn’t why I fall behind. I think it’s more accurate to call it avoidance, or even apprehension about being alone with my thoughts. I want to live an examined life, but reading a novel or zoning out on the couch at the end of a long day is so much easier than thinking things through. Socrates didn’t have Netflix!
Truth be told, as I’ve gotten older, self-reflection has gotten harder and harder. Taking 15 minutes to think critically about myself and my life feels daunting when an increasing number of external needs and distractions demand my attention. But even though it might be challenging or uncomfortable, I know it will have a positive impact on my life at home and at work. So this Elul, I’m committed to thinking more. Just as soon as I respond to these last few e-mails, check my Insta feed, read this chapter, and finish binging the latest season of Glow.