When I first got my Peloton bike and was getting in the habit of riding, I sometimes would feel intimidated by the very hard efforts laid out by the instructors, particularly during high-intensity or interval-based rides. (I still feel intimidated by Tabata rides where the tough efforts are double the length of the recovery time between them!) I often recall the words of one of my favorite instructors, Robin Arzon, during one of the first rides that helped me so much: “You can do anything for one minute.” I still say that silently to myself during my early-morning workouts when I can feel myself getting fatigued – “I can do anything for 1 minute” or “2 minutes” or (mercifully) “30 seconds” depending on how long I have left in an effort.
While it might not be about climbing heart rates, getting oxygen to your muscles, or getting your sweat session in first thing, preparing our souls and our hearts for the High Holy Days also takes effort and stamina. For so many of us, our lives are already incredibly busy; between work and schlepping kids or grandkids, taking care of ailing or aging relatives and grocery shopping so you have the ingredients for dinner, activities and volunteer commitments, and so much more, it can be hard to find a moment to breathe, much less to pause and create a quiet moment to reflect and consider the year that has passed and to plan for the year that approaches.
This Elul is no different. Life is busy; our attention and energy are pulled in numerous directions. But we can do anything for one minute. In fact, we can do just about anything for 3-5 minutes. And that’s all it takes to carve out time to prepare yourself for the new year of 5784 that approaches. In her introduction (p.xv) to Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice for the Jewish New Year, Rabbi Debra Robbins quotes Anne Lamott’s opening chapter of her book Bird by Bird. “She writes about her brother facing the deadline for a large research project on birds. He sat at the table ‘immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’’ With this wisdom in mind and heart,” Rabbi Robbins reminds us that we can take our preparation for Elul “bird by bird.”
Aside from all the preparation I do for the High Holy Days at Temple Chai alongside our precious team of clergy, staff, and lay leaders, I am committing to a “bird by bird” spiritual preparation for Elul this year, allocating at least 5-10 minutes per day to use Rabbi Robbins’s book on Psalm 27 as my guide. I am sure that occasionally, I’ll realize the next day that I didn’t create that time yesterday, and I will need to catch up. I am sure that some days it will be harder to quiet my mind and my stress to focus on this calm reflection. But remember: we can do anything for 5 minutes.
Let us bless this practice of preparing our hearts and souls for the High Holy Days (Robbins, p.4):
Hareini M’zamenet Et Pi L’hodot, Et Yadai Litzor, Et Libi Liftoach, V’et Chayay Laavod B’divrei Torah Ut’filah.
Here. Now. I prepare my lips to praise, my hands to create, my heart to open, my life to be lived with holy words.
Rabbi Emily E. Segal