It’s September. It’s Elul. Here we go for another year.
This is a busy month—lots of programs to plan, lots of sermons to write, lots of people to meet—and it’s hard to get myself to focus on the major spiritual task I’m supposed to be doing: cheshbon hanefesh, a reflective accounting of myself.
Seeking inspiration, I reviewed some of my old writings for the holidays. I found the sermon I wrote for Rosh Hashanah evening services three years ago, when I was the student rabbi for the Hillel Community at the University of Missouri. In it, I invited everyone to try a simple cheshbon hanefesh exercise, one that I’d learned in the context of setting professional goals (thanks, Barbara!). It’s a useful (and contained) way to approach reflecting on the year that has passed and the year that is beginning.
The exercise is the following:
- Pick one thing you’d like to stop doing.
- Pick one thing you’d like to start doing.
- Pick one thing you’d like to continue doing.
They can be behaviors, activities, mindsets, attitudes, whatever. Next year’s goals are to stop/start/continue each thing respectively.
If you’re like me and are struggling to find the energy for a more thorough cheshbon hanefesh, I invite you to join me in the Stop-Start-Continue exercise.
It’s not exactly full-blown teshuvah (repentance), but it can be a starting point. I think it’s valuable to recognize who we are and where we are, forgiving our own faults. It helps us seek and grant forgiveness with others.
When I reviewed my writing from three years ago, I was surprised (though maybe I shouldn’t have been) that my goals from then are not so different from those I’d set now. I guess it’s a good reminder that we’re always works in progress, and that goals are more like paths to be walked than destinations to be reached.
Now, onto my Stop-Start-Continue for 5780 (2019-2020).
STOP — This goal is exactly the same as three years ago: to stop “unintentional leisure.” By that I mean getting pulled into the black hole that is watching video game speed runs and abstract painting tutorials on YouTube, endlessly scrolling through Facebook, or letting episode after episode of Parks and Rec play nonstop on Netflix. I am so much happier when I spend my down time reading, cooking, playing guitar, going for a walk, or enjoying the video games I really like—actually paying attention to what I’m doing. I have at least deleted the mindless, addictive bubble-blaster games from my phone since I first set the goal, but I’d like to recommit to it now.
START — I want to start greeting more people. I’m naturally introverted, and I prefer to keep social interaction, especially with those I don’t know well, to a minimum. But I also think that one problem we have as a society is too much anonymity; it’s too easy to treat others as transactional objects, thereby making empathy more difficult. Furthermore, when people don’t feel seen, anger and resentment build. I don’t think I can change the world, but, in the spirit of Gregory Ellison’s Fearless Dialogues, I can change the three feet around me. I’ll begin by more often saying, “Hello—how are you today?”
CONTINUE — I’m just now realizing it’s been a little over a year since I started this blog, Sivuv. While I haven’t always kept to the posting schedule I initially set for myself, I have found it fulfilling and I feel accomplished at having made it a year. I value practicing the discipline of keeping to a schedule, however imperfectly, and writing helps me reflect on my experiences. I have also enjoyed the personal connections that have come about with people who have read these posts. I’m grateful for all of you who give me your attention for a few minutes every couple weeks. I am using this year mark, and the upcoming new year, as inspiration to continue writing on Sivuv more regularly.
Those are my goals: to stop unintentional leisure, to start greeting more people, and to continue regularly writing for Sivuv.
What is your Stop-Start-Continue? Comment below if you’d like to join me in this reflective exercise.
Thank you for reading and journeying along with me. May it be a sweet and healthy new year for all.