Shanah tovah and G’mar chatima tovah.
I’ve been watching a show on Netflix called Elementary. The main character is named Sherlock Holmes and he is a detective- consulting for the New York Police department helping them solve difficult unsolvable crimes. He left is native London, because, in this series, Sherlock Holmes is a heroin addict. He spends significant parts of the show dealing with his addiction. Sherlock regularly attends Narcotics Anonymous meeting where he, like all the other participants, stands up and says “Hello, my name is Sherlock and I am an addict.”
Now there may be some of here who are addicts, to one thing or another. There are, unfortunately for us all, an infinite number of things to which one can be addicted. Eating, reading, sex, gambling, drugs, alcohol, violence, adrenaline, TV or screens in general, theft, power, money, to name a few. I am not talking about saying “I am addicted to chocolate,” as an expression of how much you like it. I am talking about things that we really cannot live without. In the case of caffeine addiction most of us can stop. We suffer more or less as we go through withdrawal and it’s over. But for most other things, we cannot stop without help.
What I would like you to think about is standing up and saying “I am an addict.” Maybe that is not your issue, per se. Not necessarily that. And you don’t have to stand up right now. But think: What is it that troubles you most, that bends your life in ways that you desperately wish it wouldn’t and yet you can’t stop yourself from doing? What are the things that you so dreadfully want to put behind you and somehow they remain very much part of your present despite all of your best efforts?
The process of Yom Kippur, is an invitation to do this. We spend time stripping away the physical and leaving ourselves without comforts, even without some of the bare necessities of life- like food and water. We are left with our souls, our best intentions, our faults, our errors. What am I? I am depressed, I am an addict, I am a workaholic, I am distracted, I spend more time focusing on others than myself. I gave up so much to be the perfect parent or partner that I am losing myself. Whatever it is, name it for yourself right now. Because naming it makes it real, brings it out of the shadows into the light. When we recognize it in ourselves, when we call it what it is, we can accept it is real and take responsibility for it. Only then are we able to respond to it. If I say, I am depressed and that is the root of these particular issues in my life, I can go see a psychiatrist and get anti-depressants. I can go to therapy and get assistance. Can talk to friends and ask for their support and understanding. If I gave up too much of myself for my partner, my children, and/or my aging, ill parents, when I recognize that I can find something to do that feeds me, can addressing the resentment that has building in me. I can begin to work together on the relationship issues that led to the situation. By saying I am X, you give yourself the ability to do something about it and ask for help. Some of what troubles us we can address on our own. However, for almost all of us, the negative things that repeat in our lives over and over, the patterns that plague us most, are the things that we just cannot tackle on our own.
Today we have a chance to appeal to a higher power, we have a chance to appeal to our friends, our family and our community; to whatever it is, whoever it is that we need to help us make the changes that we cannot make alone because like most human beings sometimes we cannot do it on our own. Realizing and accepting that is a big part of the journey to change and healing.
So I want to offer you all a tool. It’s called the 4 Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, a Mexican writer who published them in a New York Times bestselling book in 1997. You all have copies so we can look at them together. As we stand here this evening and during the day tomorrow, you have the opportunity to think about whether these straightforward and powerful ideas could help you. And if so, how to weave them into the fabric of your life so it might be shine with a new texture or perhaps, where you need it most, a new pattern.
The first agreement, and these are agreements you make only with yourself, is to be impeccable with your word. It is a strange thing to start with, the intangible of sound waves, vibrations, hot air, as it were. But as we just saw with the recent typhoons and hurricanes, wind, air is incredibly powerful. In the Jewish tradition, God created everything with words. Words shape how you think and how others perceive you. If you speak positively, even if at the beginning it is forced, you will grow to have a more positive outlook, if you stick with it. It Hebrew we call this lashon nikiyah, literally, a clean tongue. It is really about using your words for good in a way that has impact on yourself and those around you. Speaking with integrity so you are true to yourself and with compassion so you can be open and present for those around you, even the people you do not like or those who do things that you find reprehensible.
The next two agreements are about relationships and how we handle ourselves in them. Human beings are herd animals. While there are hermits, they are the exception rather than the rule. In general we live, work and play with other people. At the same time, as much as we share with others, there are things that are private, experiences old and new, that shape who we are and what we do. This is as true of ourselves as of the person next to us. Ruiz reminds us that everyone has their own reality that motivates them to do what they do. People make their own choices and have to take responsibility for their actions. What someone else does is not our fault. We cannot take it personally. Being immune as he puts it, does not mean not caring. It means we look with compassion and caring, but know that someone else’s opinion or action is their own and we are not responsible for it. That small distance, keeps us from becoming a victim, entrapped or hurt when those around us externalize their problems, project their negativity outwards, and ask us to bear their burden for them.
Making assumptions is also something we do from practice. It saves us a lot of work. As we spend more time with people, we learn about them and what they mean when they say X or do Y. However, we are not always right. Or what we correctly thought used to be true, is no longer as others change, we change and/or circumstances change. While it is more work to ask and clarify, “What do you mean” it can help in so many ways. Good clear intentional and open communication is almost always appreciated and makes a world of different.
Finally, we come to the last agreement about action. In the end, each of us can only do our best. There is wonderful Jewish tradition that says when we die each of us will come to stand before the Eternal Judge, as in some way, we do today. Among the things that will be asked of us is “Why were you not the best you, you could have been?” Our best changes. We have good days and other days, times when we can do more and some moments where that is beyond us. At each moment, however, we can do our utmost. A life without regrets, where we can look at ourselves and say I am proud of what I did, there is likely no better gift that we or anyone can give ourselves.
In these special moments of Yom Kippur may we each identify our core issue and find the strength to ask for help where we need it to make the changes we want to make. I hope that today and in the coming year, the 4 agreements or any other tool that works for you, will be a means for enrichment and growth.
May we all be written in the Book of Life, health sh’lemut - wholeness and shalom- peace.