“Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” - Carl Bard
In the movies, the chapters of the characters’ lives conclude neatly as if tied with a bow. We learn that all adventures, whether they are joyful or tragic, have a beginning, middle, and an end. Our culture tends to view a new year, new season, or new day as an opportunity to start fresh. We hold off beginning diets or new regimens until we are ready to turn the page and begin a new chapter. Rosh Hashanah invites us to make this step, but the truth is we can take it at any time. Every moment of every day is full of possibilities, including the choice to make a change.
Waiting for the perfect time can become a spiritual crutch allowing us to hold on to old habits. Kabbalah teaches us that every moment is a chance to start fresh. Making a change for the better is not just a matter of changing patterns or behaviors, but also of rectifying negative actions from the past. Kabbalists call these actions teshuvah, highlighted in the biblical chapters, Nitzavim and Vayelech. Teshuvah is often practiced during the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah and the ten days that follow. “If I can go back and remember that yesterday or last week I did something that harmed another person,” says Michael Berg, “and then I go through the process of teshuvah concerning that action, I’ve now perfected that day. Not only will it not do any damage to me or cause me any chaos, it will actually support me.”
Many interpret teshuvah to mean “repentance.” But a more accurate translation is “to return,” as in to return to the original state (or the “scene of the crime” so to speak). It is an opportunity not only to return to a pure state, but also to recreate the self. The process of teshuvah is not restricted for use only during Rosh Hashanah, but can be used anytime during the year. At this time of year, kabbalists encourage each of us to approach someone very close to us—a trusted friend, colleague, or partner and ask humbly, “What do I need to change?” Make sure you are open to this feedback and decide if you are ready to make those changes. There is no better moment in time than now.
Kabbalists identify three different stages in the process of teshuvah: feeling regret, deciding to change one’s ways, and then vocalizing the transgression. All components are equally vital to the process. But we often linger in the first step longer than we should, ignoring the situation or making excuses to justify for our actions. Responsibility means owning up to our negative actions or habits and recognizing how destructive they are. When remorse and the need to begin again overpower the need to ignore our faults, it’s time for the next step—resolution.
The most powerful step we’ll ever take is the step towards change. The important thing to remember is that this can happen at anytime. We set small intentions all the time, I’m going to make it to work on time today or I will order water with lemon instead of soda. Kabbalistically, it is no different with life altering resolutions. “We are always at the beginning,” explains Karen Wegela, Ph.D., author of The Courage to Be Present. “Most of the time we don't realize that all we actually have is the present moment. We act as though all the feelings and thoughts we ever had are still impinging on us right now. In some ways, that is so. We are always living with the consequences of our past choices and actions…Yet, the next moment is also completely open.” As Wegela suggests, negative actions from our past can overshadow the present if we allow them to, but moving towards positive change is an option at all times.
After we make a decision to change, it is necessary to vocalize this intention. This sometimes comes in the form of an apology to someone we’ve wronged. But it can also come through sharing a resolution with a friend. Either way, there is power in the spoken word. By letting someone in on the steps we want to take towards change, we make ourselves accountable to others and are, therefore, less likely to pick up old habits again.
Awareness of one’s shortcomings and negative habits is a continuous effort throughout the year. It’s human nature to feel disappointed in our own actions on occasion. The temptation to wallow in our failures or shortcomings and put off a fresh start until the next day, week, or year is powerful. However, we can put down the cookie, stop gossiping, or make a U-turn whenever we choose. While a new year is a great time to reflect on the past and make resolutions for the future, each minute of the day holds just as much opportunity for change. By setting off on a new course, we take control, directing the movie of our lives. We decide when to start a new chapter; all we have to do is take the first step.