There is one benefit to a break from regular practice. It may not outweigh the drawbacks — or the benefits of consistency — but it’s something. Coming back to the practice after a gap, there is a palpable sense of return. If cultivated sincerely and in balance with all aspects of the practice, that sense of return can be of serious spiritual benefit.
I realized this on Yom Kippur, the spiritual peak of the monthlong Jewish High Holiday season that’s now almost done altering my routine. Yom Kippur is an intense 25-hour period of purification, fasting, prayer, and teshuvah — usually translated in the West as “repentance,” though many Jews have come to prefer a more literal, less loaded translation of teshuvah: return.
Teshuvah is a return to what you are: a creation of the Divine. Mistakes and missteps accumulate along the way, and they form obstacles and distractions on the path. Western culture has coined the loaded word “sin” for those actions that knock us from the path. The Hebrew word for what we’re really repenting for, though — ḥet — doesn’t connote the eternal damnation that “sin” does. It means “missing the mark.” As in, “Pick up your bow, and try again. You’ll get it next time.”
That, I hope, reminds you of meditation practice. What is the spiritual practice of returning, whether in prayer or meditation? Picking up the bow and trying again. We know this feeling, even if we haven’t consciously felt it for months. We can always return.
And not just in prayer or meditation, but in all our conduct. Even during lapses in spiritual practice, we’re still taking aim — sometimes missing, sometimes hitting the bullseye — all day long. The confidence of taking aim is the practice. The joy of hitting the mark balances the despair of missing it. This is the essence of what we are!
As ugly and crazy as it can get, the beautiful thing about the human mind is that it can always come back to what it is: a vast, expansive awareness.