The purpose of this blog is to explore through the recent holidays where spirituality and therapy connect and share some information about how that may not be widely known among majority culture. Through this blog, the aim is to examine one example of that parallel. We at Maria Droste seek to allow an open space for clients to explore the connection of self-exploration and their personal spirituality if it is meaningful for them.
This week, Jews around the world celebrated the New Year. According to the Jewish calendar, the new year begins on Rosh Hashanah (literally head of the year) which occurs in the Hebrew month of Tishri, and falls sometime in September or October.
Unlike the secular New Year, Rosh Hashanah is not celebrated with parties and midnight champagne toasts, but it does involve resolutions of a sort. Rosh Hashanah is the start of a 10-day period of self-reflection known as the Days of Awe, which culminates with another holy day, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).
This time is also referred to as the High Holy Days. Along with Shabbat (Sabbath), which occurs weekly, and Passover, which is celebrated in the spring, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are perhaps the most important days in the Jewish religion. On these days, Jews refrain from work and attend worship services and on Yom Kippur, they also fast for 24 hours.
While most people don’t think of religious holidays in terms of mental health, there is a definite mental health connection. Many people today struggle with stress and anxiety from the busyness and demands of life, with little true happiness, peace and joy. This particular collective worship experience is a way for Jews to take time away from the hectic nature of daily life to connect with God and self by looking within and also out to the greater community.
Counseling often involves self-reflection and accountability, followed by action. During Rosh Hashanah, Jews gather in prayer. “It’s very personal. The language of the prayers conveys that God is love, all that I am is love, and the best way for me to honor God is by honoring my authentic self and accepting the task of being a better person,” says Tara Saltzman, director of education at Congregation Beth Evergreen, in Evergreen, Colorado.
On Rosh Hashanah, the Book of Life is opened, and the process of introspection begins. Yom Kippur is the day Jews atone for transgressions against God, and in the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they atone for transgressions against others. These practices ask one to look at the past and acknowledge those transgressions, seek out those you may have wronged, and make amends. Sometimes, it’s not possible because, the person is no longer living or is unwilling to grant forgiveness. The process, though, is intended to make us look deeply at oneself and our actions. Through atonement, some questions one might consider are as follows: Why did I behave this way? Was I justified in any part of my action? What serves me and what can I let go of? What can I do to honor this person? How can I do better? Examining oneself in this way can be challenging and uncomfortable, so having the framework of the worship service is important.
“The self-reflection supports the mental health model. The structure of the setting – the spiritual piece – provides safety for doing the work,” explains Saltzman. In worship, we are looking deeply at our ourselves, which is a solitary practice, yet we do it surrounded by others engaged in the same process, surrounded by community.
Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are often considered the time to be absolved of sins. In fact, the Hebrew word, chet, which is often translated as “sin,” actually means “to miss the mark.” Rather than something that makes one bad, it is more the recognition or our human frailty, designed to make mistakes and to achieve.
The idea is to look at the outer parts of ourselves, the parts that one can change, while understanding that at our core are holy souls and one’s deepest essence never changes. It is about honoring who you are, by working to be better.
Jews devote 10 days to this practice because it is intended to be deep work. Reconnecting to one’s authentic self — one’s holy soul — can’t be done in a day. It is done in the context of three principles: teshuva (return), tefilah (prayer) and tzedakah (good deeds).
The process of teshuva, or returning to a state of spiritual purity, begins with that deep self-reflection, uncovering and examining where one “missed the mark.” Tefilah provides the structure and safety in which to do the work, and tzedakah is how to make amends, through good deeds and charity as a way to bring greater justice to the world.
On Yom Kippur Jews fast and hope that their efforts during the previous 10 days will persuade God to inscribe them in the Book of Life before it is closed for another year, and that the work they have done will allow them to move into the New Year healthier and along a better path than they were on before.
Religions, such as Judaism, can parallel caring for your mental health in many ways, as described here through self-reflection and exploration. The general practices of many religions share similarities with techniques many therapists and other mental health professionals utilize with clients working to better themselves. Discovering and approaching areas of your life you have the control to change, meanwhile recognizing that some things you do not have control over, but you do have control over how you interpret and interact with them, is a common theme between common practices of faith as well as in mental health care. Religion can give us a lens for how to live in mentally healthy ways, and can be useful for a lens in counseling or therapy for beneficial ways to integrate regular self-reflection and mindfulness into your typical routine.