Jews observe ten days of repentance every year from the eve of Rosh Hashanah to the end of Yom Kippur at nightfall. Rabbi Michael Lerner of the Tikkun Community and the Network of Spiritual Progressives and one of S&P's Living Spiritual Teachers notes that the spiritual practice of repentance and forgiveness used by Jews at this time can be adopted by people of any religious tradition, as well as atheists, agnostics, and skeptics of all sorts.
Practice 1: Repentance
Carefully review your life, acknowledge to yourself who you have hurt and where your life has gone astray from your own highest ideals. Find a place where you can be safely alone, and then say out loud who and how you've hurt others and how you've hurt yourself. In the case of others, go to them and say clearly what you've done and ask for forgiveness. Do not mitigate or "explain" — just acknowledge and sincerely ask for forgiveness.
We do not start from the assumption that anyone has become evil. Rather, we vision any "sins" as "missing the mark." We are born pure and with the best of intensions to be the highest possible spiritual being we can be, as though we were an arrow being shot straight toward God to connect more fully, yet at various points in our lives the arrow gets slightly off track and misses the mark. Repentance is really about a mid-course adjustment to get back on track.
Practice 2: Forgiveness
Every night before going to sleep or every morning before engaging in your various tasks, projects or interactions with others, review your life, recall who you feel has hurt or betrayed you and toward whom you are still holding resentment or anger. Then, find a place to say this out loud:
Meditation or Prayer of Forgiveness
YOU, my ETERNAL FRIEND, YHVH, THE POWER OF TRANSFORMATION AND HEALING IN THE UNIVERSE, WITNESS now that I forgive anyone who hurt or upset me or who offended me by
- damaging my body, my property, my reputation, hurting my feelings, shaming me, undermining my friendships or hurting my income or scaring me or making me angry
- or damaging people that I love — whether by accident or purposely — with words, deeds, thoughts or attitudes.
- I think particularly of _______________________ (fill in here anyone in your life who may have done some of the above).
- I forgive (name each person) and every person who has hurt or upset me, whether or not I can remember them at this moment.
May no one be punished because of me.
May no one suffer from karmic consequences for hurting or upsetting me.
Help me, Eternal Friend, to keep from offending You and others.
Help me to be thoughtful and not commit outrage by doing what is evil in Your eyes.
Whatever sins I have committed, blot out, please, in Your abundant kindness, and spare me suffering or harmful illnesses.
Help me become aware of the ways I may have unintentionally or intentionally hurt others — and please give me guidance and strength to rectify those hurts and to develop the sensitivity to not continue acting in a hurtful way.
Let me forgive others, let me forgive myself — but also let me change in ways that make it easy for me to avoid paths of hurtfulness to others.
I seek peace, let me BE peace.
I seek justice, let me be just.
I seek a world of kindness, let me be kind.
I seek a world of generosity, let me be generous with all that I have and to everyone I encounter in my life and to those whom I do not encounter but who need my help.
I seek a world of sharing, let me share all that I have.
I seek a world of giving, let me be giving to all around me.
I seek a world of love, let me be loving beyond all reason, beyond all normal expectation, beyond all societal frameworks that tell me how much love is "normal," beyond all fear that giving too much love will leave me with too little.
And let me be open, aware, sensitive and receptive to all the love that is already coming to me, from:
- the love of people I know,
- the love that is part of the human condition,
- the accumulated love of past generations that flows through and is embodied in the language, music, agriculture & recipes for cooking or preparing food, technology, literature, religions, agriculture, and family heritages that have been passed on to me and to us.
Let me pass that love on to the next generations in an even fuller and more conscious way.
Source of goodness and love in the universe, let me be alive to all the goodness that surrounds me.
And let that awareness of the goodness and love of the universe be my shield and protector.
Hear the words of my mouth and may the meditations of my heart find acceptance before You, Eternal Friend, who protects and frees me.
Composed by Rabbi Michael Lerner based on the previous writing of Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi. If you wish to help to spread the consciousness represented in this prayer, you are welcome to join the interfaith organization The Network of Spiritual Progressives (which is also open to atheists and agnostics who don't relate to organized religion but who do acknowledge a spiritual dimension to life and reality) at www.spiritualprogressives.org.