Saturday, August 21, 2010

Elul, Or, "Back to Our Senses"

Identity Seeker, H.Hunter ©2000
It's that time of year again, the month of Elul. In the Jewish calendar, Elul is the month that comes before Rosh Hoshanah, the Jewish New Year. During Elul, a shofar (an elegantly shaped ram's horn) is blown in synagogues all around the world  announcing the beginning of this time. Its otherworldly sound is said to call us back to our senses--in other words, it's a wake up call.

These next 40 days through Yom Kippur are the season of t'shuvah (or return), of returning to our essential selves by fearlessly examining our lives and choices. In the Jewish mystical tradition, the senses are the gateways to the soul.

...How better to begin the practice of t'shuvah than to mindfully observe our responses to the input of our senses: noticing the bombarding array of sights, sounds, fragrances, touches and thoughts, discerning which ones to attend to and consciously choosing our reactions.  --Rabbi SaraLeya Schley

My approach to practicing Judaism is a spiritual one. I spent many years as an active seeker and my road to Judaism, the religion of my father's family, took me on a journey not unlike that in the movie, Eat, Pray, Love.
Flood, H. Hunter, ©2009

When one takes a roundabout route, it inspires questioning and re-examining everything, which is exactly what Elul is all about. This time of soul searching coincides (in this hemisphere) with the end of summer,  harvest time, when we gather in the yield of all that we've sown and tended over the previous year; whether it is plants in the garden (harvest that basil girl!) or the relationships in our lives, our work or art that we've created. 

Most of my reflections have to do with being an artist. I'm sitting here in the studio of my good friend, Linda Clark Johnson. It's a friendship that's come to fruition over the last year after taking Alyson Stanfield's Blastoff class. After that class, I got out of my studio more often and got to know other artists- meeting for coffee, doing trades, talking about work and exhibits. It is a rich and ongoing process.

Also as result of Alyson's classes (I took both the Blastoff and the Blog class), I've nurtured a regular partnership with an artist in Florida, Beth Rommel, a mutual support system made possible by a handy combo of e-mail, internet and good old fashioned phone talks. We've seen each other through good shows and bad shows, as well as times, also good and bad.

Many Chambered House, H. Hunter, ©2004
A special gift is my blog and my blog friendships with all of you. I've been introduced to artists from around the world and seen a variety of work I could previously only dream of, not to mention having actual conversations with some of you. It's all very exciting to me, a person, who as a five year-old, could not walk across a school stage without bursting into tears of anxiety.

When I began this post, I thought that I was going to write about the process of self-inquiry, looking at where I'd missed the mark. But I do that every day of my life and maybe there is a wider definition for this time of t'shuvah. Perhaps a more generous approach is to appreciate how we did it right, where we were right on target.

The other day in art group I had just one patient, a young boy wearing a leg cast up to his hip. He could move, but just barely. We created a target a la Jasper Johns, with many different, colored concentric circles. Once finished, we put the target on the wall, blindfolded him with a bright bandanna and played "hit the target." The first go around, he missed, placing all the arrows on the outer perimeter. On the second try, he touched the center two out of three times. It strikes me that most of the time, we get second chances to get it right. This is the season to try again...


  1. Thank you Hannah for the optimistic spirit of your post. I feel very hopeful in thinking we get a second chance, that there is a learning curve in life. I always learn so much reading your posts, I am deeply appreciative that you share the knowledge you have gathered through these personal journeys. Thank you too for including me in revisiting your year. Your friendship and our conversations have really gotten me through a trying time. Hug:)

  2. Beautiful post Hannah! I am Jewish by choice and my choice was when I was turning 21 so so many years ago. This time of year is all heart for me and your post spoke so sincerely of t'shuvah. I am on a journey of 40 paintings in however long it takes...this journey is about here...Heneini. Thank you for this post.

  3. Beth--I do think there's a learning curve, hairpin turns and all and that we have second chances, thirds and fourths (& I'm definitely trying to take advantage of that). Your comment left me feeling full of smiles. Friendship is a blessing.

    Blue Sky,
    Thank you for sharing this story of your conversion and what it has led to: 40 paintings in 40 days! I love the notion of painting while focusing on the thought: Hineni, or, "here I am."

  4. Beautiful!! I have never been a religious person and was not brought up to be one. But since I quit my job and started searching, Art and my yoga practice has brought me a lot of peace. And I realized that even though I never really thought about religion, my basic thought process was influenced by the basic philosophy of Hinduism. Its weird how a faith finds you even if you are not actively looking for one.

    I love reading your blog (and your comments on mine). It amazes me how a passion for something links people across the country, across seven seas.

  5. Joyita--Thank you--and it's true isn't it? The way the subtle influences of one's past underlie one's thoughts and actions. And yoga has a way of opening us up, making us more aware of all this. What a coincidence that you mention it...I made a resolution this afternoon to begin yoga again after a couple years hiatus!

  6. thank you for this glimpse into the Jewish faith and thought and outlook on life and how you connect your art to your faith-- and it all is a daily search for identity.

  7. A beautiful post! thanks for the reminder of how important traditions and rituals are in our lives.

    For me, I find it's a never ending adventure to let go, begin again with values that lead me on a spiral path, always seeking that centering.

  8. Donna, You're right--that search for identity is a life long quest.

    Paris, I like to think of growth as a spiral too--often I think am learning something new and after a bit I realize--"oh, it's just another turn on the spiral."

  9. What a wonderful post! The words and the art are wonderful! L'shana tovah!

  10. "maybe there is a wider definition for this time of t'shuvah. Perhaps a more generous approach is to appreciate how we did it right, where we were right on target."

    Beautiful post Hannah! The quote above really opened my heart in a big, big way! Perhaps if we could continue turning toward this direction, all else would fall in place in our live as well.

    thank you so much for dropping by my blog. I will add a link to yours on mine today:)

  11. ps...The Soul's Palette is one of my absolutely favorite books....I go back to it often!

  12. Laura,

    Thank you for your response. I felt like I was taking a risk writing about t'shuvah in this way--but I also felt deeply that appreciation is a powerful means of making amends.