On these days of teshuvah, try to pay attention to your inner compass
eep inside each of us there is a compass pointing home — home to the truth, to what we know is right and good. As we live our lives, interact with our family members, and conduct our businesses, we feel the movement of the compass constantly: “I’m on track, I’m off track, I need to adjust my direction…” and so on. Our behavior is monitored all day.
Sometimes our inner critic gets in on the act, trying to hijack the compass apparatus — telling us that we’re bad, we’re failing. We can easily tell the difference between the actual compass and the inner critic: The former points to our behavior while the latter points to our being. The compass is a useful device for guiding us toward our best selves, our more cherished values, and our important goals. It operates like the lines on a highway, helping us to navigate safely and surely to our destination. The critic, on the other hand, stops us in our tracks, leaving us in a demoralized heap, unable to move forward.
“I knew I had crossed the line when I started berating my daughter, and I couldn’t stop talking. My mouth was going a mile a minute, and every word was harsh and rejecting. I was in some sort of trance — I could hear myself but couldn’t control myself. It was awful. This isn’t the kind of mother I want to be.”
The compass calls Devora home to her true self. She knows how a “good mother” disciplines a child and that her own behavior was out of line. She’s disappointed in herself but is more interested in improving than in beating herself up.
“It’s hard for me. My own mother screamed nonstop, and I know I’m a lot better at parenting than she was. But it’s not good enough. I can’t afford to have those moments — even if they’re infrequent — of hurting my own children.”
Mordechai’s compass is also showing him that he’s going in the wrong direction:
“I know I’m supposed to have emunah, and I really believe at some level that everything is up to Hashem. It’s just that this doesn’t help me when I have to fly long distances. Everything falls apart; I go into full panic mode. I should just be able to trust in Hashem and have a good flight!”
Mordechai feels bad that he isn’t able to feel the way a “good” Jew ought to feel — relaxed and safe in the arms of Hashem. His compass informs him that the road between his brain and heart needs paving.
“Please Hashem, improve the road! I want to feel the security I’m meant to have.”
He calls out to Hashem, and while doing so, feels inspired to really work on his anxiety, even to seek professional help for it.
Finding the Road Home
Although the compass works constantly to show us whether we’re deviating from the road home, it works overtime as Yom Kippur approaches.
Rosh Hashanah and the days of teshuvah ask us to listen up: “Hey — wake up! Where’s the compass pointing? There’s still time to get on track!” We might have been ignoring the inner communication that was regularly sent our way, just as we might ignore the incessant ring of a telephone.
“Oh yes — I was vaguely aware of the alarm ringing on the compass (it’s like the beeping backup signal on my car that I may or may not pay attention to...); I planned to get around to doing something about it, however, life is busy.
But then, just like the backup signal on the car gets louder and more frantic as I get closer to hitting something, well, that’s how the shofar is for me. Once Elul arrives, I realize I’ve got to start paying attention to my inner signaling system. I become introspective: “Did I accomplish any of last year’s goals? What can I improve on?”
I’m careful to look for my progress as well as new projects. In the past, my inner critic used to show up at this time of year and cause me to become overwhelmed and depressed. Now I just look at the compass, see where it’s pointing, and gently move myself in that direction.”
Yom Kippur is a true gift. It gives us the time and space to pay attention to our compass, and by doing so, helps us to return home to Hashem and to our truest and best selves.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 812)
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