The New Year is upon us.  The Jewish tradition offers us a great toolbox for a real opportunity to set out on a meaningful new course for the journey of 5772.  Teshuvah, repentance, means a “turning” from one direction to another. For most of us it is subtle course-correction, returning to our core values and life goals. For others of us, major changes may lie ahead, resulting from new life conditions or a new life-stage, or a significant insight about our lives that propels us forward.

What have we learned or experienced in the past year that may help to direct our teshuvah in this New Year?

This past summer I rather spontaneously agreed to do something I had never before done – and likely would have avoided in the past. When my three kids, who love to travel together and enjoy camping, invited me to join them on a hiking/backpacking trip in Vermont, I simply said “yes!”  Not being a hearty outdoors-person, this was to be a major new experience. As the time for the trip grew near, I imagined how I’d fare spending four days in the wilderness.  My anxiety for unknown and frightening situations was abated by the trust I had in my three kids. They had done this before, acquiring knowledge and responsibility in the process.

It turned out that the four days of mountain hiking in Vermont was about a whole lot more than spending time with my kids – though of course it was that first and foremost. I learned a lot about each of them, about myself, and about us as a family team. I was reinforced in perceiving much about what is truly most important. The values of caring, courage, perseverance, sharing, curiosity, openness, flexibility, gratitude, appreciation, love, family and personal reflection were all reinforced in many ways in that brief trip.

Now, as I approach the beginning of a New Year, I realize that my choice to accept the challenge of the hike in order to be with my kids was my soul’s way of opening to a whole new set of opportunities. I can do more than I thought I could do; I can be more than I was a year ago. Now I have the opportunity to consciously build on that knowledge and to expand my soul’s connection to nature’s beauty and the glory of shared experiences and accomplishments with my emerging adult children.  All of this is a gift from the Divine source of life, human potential and love.

When I injured my leg on the hike because it was far more physically challenging than I had imagined, I also learned about my limitations. My kids were like mountain goats scurrying up the rugged trail, even in fierce rain. But reality hit me hard — I am not so young anymore, no matter how fit I thought I was. As they compassionately told me to lead so I could set a pace that I could keep, I thought deeply about how life-stage perspective is so important. The next time I sign up for a 22 mile mountain hike with a 30 pound pack on my back, I’ll be sure to prepare more than my bags of trail mix.

Isn’t so much of life like this? We enter new life stages, whether by choice or fate, and we have to learn how to do our teshuvah, our turning, in a way that is conscious and intentional. When our kavannah, our spiritual intention, is directed towards opening our souls to the spiritual messages and religious values along the way, our lives will be sustained in powerful ways. Then we will have truly used the tools of our faith to live purposefully.

This moment of teshuvah is such a blessing – for whatever our lives have brought us in the past year, whether good or bad, we can now direct the course for 5772 to integrate the past year into the selves we will become in the coming year.

The provocative Unetaneh Tokef prayer of the High Holy days proclaims that “teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah will avert the evil decree.” Repentance, prayer and generous giving will sustain our lives and determine the quality of our living.

What have we experienced in this past year? And what have we learned? How will it help direct our path in the coming year?

May we have meaningful journeys of teshuvah and renewed spiritual living in 5772.

Warm wishes for a sweet, happy and healthy New Year. Leshanah Tovah Tikateivu v’teichateimu. May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for Good.