What I am feeling right now, and have been feeling since the first of Elul, is some combination of overwhelmed, exhausted, burned out, apathetic, and scared. I was feeling particularly bad about that last Thursday, when it occurred to me: I am feeling all of those things because I am changing. A lot. (Heck, I have change to spare if you need some.) And if Elul/Rosh Hashanah isn't about taking a close look at one's life and deciding to change, I don't know what it's about. It's just that I made the decisions to change (= to do teshuva) several months ago, and now I am living out the results of those changes in real life and real time. And man, it's hard...
Why is change so hard? Why am I so resistant to doing the things that would most help me in life? Why is it sometimes so easy to do the wrong thing and so hard to do the right thing? Why, even when we make changes that we think are for the best, does it still not feel good? Should I interpret this general weariness as a sign that I have made a big mistake in uprooting my life, quitting my job, and transplanting myself to a new country, or just as a sign that I have uprooted my life, quit my job, and transplanted myself to a new country--and those things are exhausting, hence the weariness? Is this what we call a "difficult transition"?
One of the things that has been particularly difficult in this change is my new environment of intellectual challenge. Simply put, I am studying difficult texts, with relatively little support from people other than my chavruta [study partner], and shiur [class] is difficult for me to follow, at least partly because I don't get through all of the sources before shiur begins. Like this summer, there is a relatively wide range of background and experience in the shiur, but unlike this past summer, I feel like I fall out on the lower end of things rather than the higher end of things. This is not a feeling that I am accustomed to, and not because I am especially brilliant, but because I've always gravitated towards the things that I was naturally better at, and avoided the things that were more difficult for me. Thus, it is hard for me not to understand everything, and to accept that I won't be able to understand something in particular. I have so much to learn and I can't learn it all instantaneously. That's what I'm here to do, right? Learn? So I need to accept being with not understanding things and not asking the most brilliant, penetrating questions, and just listening sometimes, without necessarily taking anything in.1 This goes against my nature.
All in all, I would say that this Elul, I am changing and learning to live better and differently. It's not, as I sometimes feel our classic liturgy impresses upon us, to feel bad, unworthy, and guilty. It's about closely examining the way things are and learning to live in a way that is productive, rather than constantly damning. It's about learning, in my case, to understand less, rather than always pushing to understand more and feeling stupid for failing at it.
My blessing for my readership is: May this coming year of 5769 bring you to the changes that will sweeten and deepen your life. May you have the courage, as I am trying to, to do things that are difficult and to be open to admitting their difficulty--let's agree not to pretend that everything is easy, okay? May the things that inevitably begin with difficulty this year bring immeasurable rewards in the end. May you be able to appreciate the fullness of those rewards in their time.
1. Moving down to an easier class is not an option. The next lower class would be too easy. Also, since I almost always understand more than I think I do, I am assuming that that is true in this case, too, and that I am getting more out of just sitting, listening, and not understanding than I think I am. If that makes any sense.