The Creative Process of Becoming: An Intention for Elul
Welcome to Elul - the Hebrew month in which we engage in teshuva - the process of reflecting on who we’ve been and envisioning who we might become as we prepare for the High Holy Days. It is a time of new beginnings and wild possibilities. A gift to ourselves of time and space to reimagine our lives and recreate ourselves anew.
Over the course of these weeks it is traditional to sound the shofar every day, leading up to the 100 blasts we sound to bring in the New Year. Following each set of blasts on Rosh Hashanah, we will answer with words from liturgy: Hayom Harat Olam - today the world is conceived. The repetition of these blasts, over and over again, are meant to shatter the walls we’ve built around ourselves - walls that have kept us constrained to whom and what we’ve always been - so that we might allow, in the words of the German writer Goethe, “something new, higher and unexpected” to emerge.
I love this phrase of Goethe’s and his particular choice of words. For something to be new and higher, I believe it must also be unexpected. Part of the spiritual work of this season is reflection and introspection, but equally important is the work of imagining, opening, and making space for something new to come into being.
Creativity is one of our most powerful resources. Whether using pen and paper or paints and pallette, whether through music and melody or the movements of our own body, creative exploration is a practice for exactly what Goethe describes. We begin by letting ourselves be drawn to what calls us - be it a color, texture, rhythm, or gesture - and from there, we play. It is through this process of allowing our pleasure to lead us that we can become open and receptive enough for new insights, emotions, ideas and versions of self to emerge. Not only that, but we can enjoy ourselves in the process.
Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto wrote, “The time for teshuvah is Rosh Hashanah, the anniversary of the creation of the world. This is because teshuvah...is also a kind of creativity.” Machzor Lev Shalem explains his teaching this way, “The Hebrew word teshuvah means repentance and return. However, as a creative act, teshuvah is not a simple return. We return to who we are meant to be, but have not yet become. We return to growth and possibility that has lain dormant within us and not yet flourished, much as a sculpture lies hidden within a brute block of stone.”
The practice of letting ourselves be led by our creativity is, essentially, a practice for teshuva. The many modalities of creative arts are our tools for finding - or returning to - our true selves. Author Barbara Ueland wrote that the true self is “always in motion - like music, a river of life, changing, moving, failing, suffering, learning, shining...and if we can only free, respect, and not run it down, and let it move and work, it becomes the pathway towards being happier and greater.” Each time we can drop into the creative process and allow ourselves to be led by what calls to us, delight in what emerges from us, and release our expectations of the outcome, we are carving a pathway for our most alive, vibrant, radiant, and truest self to emerge. We are practicing the art of becoming.
May the sound of the shofar this year help us to break down the barriers we’ve constructed around our hearts, and upon hearing those weeping, wailing, triumphant blasts, may we be able to respond “Hayom harat olam” - today something new, higher and unexpected is born.