I’m about to enter a meditation retreat at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in rural central Massachusetts with one of my dharma heroes, Bhikkhu Analayo. Since 1975, the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) with its Retreat Center, the Study Center and the Forest Refuge, was my loving home away from home when I lived in Cambridge. It’s a wonderful coincidence that next week is Yom Kippur, the holiest of days in the Jewish calendar, dedicated to atonement and repentance, just when I’m entering silent retreat – a treasured time for deepening practice.
During the high holidays, observant Jews do the difficult psychological work of self-examination and spiritual change: asking for forgiveness, acknowledging and resolving not to repeat mistakes, wiping the slate clean of grudges and resentments to begin a fresh new year. God, prayer, meditation don’t sort out personal relationships; we humans have to open up to each other – to acknowledge and apologize for hurting others, forgiving those who ask – so that we can bear to be with ourselves in loving awareness without shame or blame.
As Leonard Cohen sings in “The Future”: “When they said REPENT REPENT, I wonder what they meant.” Repentance doesn’t mean guilt. It means a change of heart, a feeling of remorse, determination to do better, along with making amends for one’s misdeeds to create a more generous and loving future. He sings on, “I’ve seen the nations rise and fall, I’ve heard their stories, heard them all, but love’s the only engine of survival.”
With mindfulness and meditation, we leave behind whatever separates us from the love that is our true nature. Holidays and spiritual traditions can illuminate our highest purpose in this life that has been given to us. We can pause and reconnect with our birthright – to love, serve and remember our inter-being and belonging in the matrix of boundless, universal life.