Every year for 30 years, I’ve sat in a temple sanctuary on the High Holidays and watched a movie. It’s a movie only I can see – flashbacks of all the times I recall over the past 52 weeks when I didn’t measure up to the standards of my head, heart, and soul.
Every year, the actors, scenery, and dialogue change, but somehow the errors of my ways seem, fundamentally, the same. And so, year in and year out, I find myself pondering an identical thought: How can I really be better next year?
The truth is, after 30 years’ worth of acknowledgements, repentance, and promises, I feel like a quasi Yom Kippur Master – a role I deeply want to relinquish. It does not serve me to be a Master (or Mistress) of Repentance; I wish to be the Master of My Day-to-Day. The Master of This Very Moment! And the next one… and the hundreds of thousands of moments following… all in just one 365-day cycle of living.
I know I’m most successful at being Master of This Very Moment when I’m aware of my larger goals – for example, when I recognize that it is more important in this second for me to express the wisdom of compassion than it is to express the wisdom of my “being right.”
Most times, I figure, my problem is habituation – that special human ability to rationalize the ruts I fall into, especially after I’ve well-worn their pathways.
So how do I un-habituate my habits? I don’t know, exactly. Instead, this year, I’ve decided to try out the opposite technique: habituating the version of me that I want to be.
One of my most omnipresent habits is humming songs I love. Favorites are constantly playing in my head. Music and lyrics that speak to me always help me dig – and shout – out truths.
In past years, I culled other people’s music for my truths. Now, as a composer, I work to hone my own truths in song.
Many of my songs express my spiritual yearnings. For example, the song “Reach Higher Now (Yom Kippur Petition)” calls upon me to be “Seeing the Godly / when tempted to hate / Acting with honor, and /living with faith.” "Dayeinu – Enough for Me" reminds me to be grateful – the best of times are right here, when I can say this moment is enough for me. "The Mission" reminds me to harness my unique strengths for the betterment of the world. "All Real Living Is Meeting" reminds me to follow Martin Buber’s “I and Thou” teaching, recognizing and celebrating the humanity in each being I encounter.
This year, I’m often to be found quietly humming my own songs, trying to habituate their messages in the songbook of my life.
I hope they will eventually make it onto my High Holidays movie soundtrack.