New Year’s Kavanah

I’m basically sympathetic with the school of thought that doesn’t hold with New Year’s resolutions, for a number of reasons really. For one thing, I’m pretty hard on myself most of the time as it is, and it’s not as if I need yet another opportunity to pile on expectations with little chance of me living up to them. For another, as I think I’ve mentioned before the Jewish tradition is uncomfortable with the idea of making vows of any kind except when legally or religiously required to do so. Given the fact that the other New Year’s festival we celebrate is so heavily centered on getting rid of burdensome vows, it seems counterproductive to take this one as an opportunity to start piling them on again–it’s probably best to start off the new year with a clean slate. Besides, a “resolution” sounds so cold and clinical, like something that happens at a board meeting. And really, who wants to live their life according to Robert’s Rules of Order? My top pick for a substitute concept is the New Year’s kavanah, a set of intentions I want to carry mindfully as I step forward into the (secular) new year. So, without further ado, here is my list of kavanot for  2012:

  • Not to ignore my body so much. Just today one of my professors at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College painted the humorous but very true picture of the typical RRC student as a big old head with an ignored little stick figure of a body. This certainly doesn’t apply to some of my classmates (Sandra and Nathan in particular, I’m looking at you guys!), but I can definitely identify myself somewhere in that picture. Part of this is to take better care of my body–you know, eating a bit better, taking a break from studying to exercise once in a while, all that jazz–but actually I think an even bigger part is to remind myself occasionally that when G-d created the first human, He had to create the body before breathing a neshama into it. There are all kinds of reasons why I forget that from time to time, but there are a few good reasons to remember.
  • To look for Torah wherever it may be found. There’s an account somewhere of Mordecai Kaplan getting up one morning and putting on tallit and tefillin to read a book by John Dewey. I tend to get so wrapped up in the question of Jewish “authenticity.” Sometimes I’ve got to remind myself that Torah can be found in all sorts of interesting places if we’re willing to look with open eyes. As Björk said in that one song, “You’ll be given love, you’ll be taken care of/You’ll be given love, you have to trust it/Maybe not from the sources you have poured yours/Maybe not from the directions you are staring at…
  • To spend more of my time paying attention to all of the amazing and interesting people around me. Pretty self-explanatory, really. Everyone’s got their own pick for “most important mitzvah”–just see Pirkei Avot!–but for my money, it’s “Don’t separate yourself from the community.” Of course, before you can not separate yourself from the community, you’ve got to spend some time building a community to not separate yourself from.

That’s three. Three sounds like a good number to me. No reason I couldn’t add more later if I felt like it–there are certainly enough new years in the Jewish year for that!