Excerpted with permission from "Kabbalah Month by Month: A Year of Spiritual Practice and Personal Transformation" by Melinda Ribner. September 2002, $22.95, cloth, by permission of Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint.

The following guidelines and goals enable us to direct our energies in the ways that are optimal for our growth and transformation in accordance with the energy of this month, [the Jewish month of Tishrei]. It is recommended that you read and meditate upon them often in the course of the month. Reflect on their applicability to you, and allow them to direct and inspire you often this month.

1. Set a vision for the new year.
As the first month of a new year, Tishrei is an opportunity for a new beginning. Every year brings with it new blessings, with new opportunities and possibilities. What we open to during this month sets the course for the entire year.

Because we have been endowed with free will, we are not bound to the past and have no need to carry its baggage. If we keep doing what we have done in the past, it is likely we will get the results we have in the past. The energy of this month proclaims that we can change. We can be the people we want to be and have lives that reflect who we really are. This is the time to let go of the old excuses to justify not having what you want in your life now and open to a new you.

During the days of this month, particularly when you engage in the celebration of the holidays, take time to envision what you want for yourself. Ask yourself, "Am I living a life worthy of who I am?" For example, are you living where you want to live? Do you do the kind of work you love and get paid what you want? Do you have the kinds of relationships you want in your life? Do you support your physical well-being with nourishing, healthy foods and exercise? Do you have outlets for creative expression? Do you have times for recreation and play? Do you have a vibrant prayer or meditative practice? If the answer is no or not entirely to any of these questions, you need to open to newness.

Reflect on what you want, visualize yourself living the life you want, and pray for God's blessing. When you can accept that you are blessed in the way you want, begin to formulate your goals for the coming year along with strategies for meeting these goals.

2. Affirm yourself and what you want in life.
Affirmations are a powerful tool for manifesting what we want in our lives. See yourself healthy, happy, radiant, fulfilled, and engaged in meaningful work and relationships, enjoying your life on all levels. Affirm that this is your true self and that you are committed to living on this level of truth.

Write powerful affirmations for yourself and repeat them often in the course of the month. For example, "I am a radiant spiritual being who enjoys life fully" or "I am lovable and loving." Who we are and what we have in our lives is a reflection of our consciousness. Commit to changing your consciousness now.

Take note of the negative voice within, the inner critic or ego mind, which, in the guise of self-protection and rational thinking, is self-deprecating. This is the voice that tells you you are not worthy, you are inadequate, you are basically flawed, deficient, and not good enough. This negative voice is a product of your fears and is peripheral to you. It is not who you are! The Torah tells us that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. Don't waste your time indulging in negative thinking or actions. This does not honor you or God, your Creator. Continue the repetition of your affirmations until they resonate deeply within you and you begin to live from them.

3. Heal your relationships with friends and family.
In the course of life, particularly in this last year, we may have been hurt or hurt people close to us. We may even be unaware of how we have hurt others, and we may not have shared with others how they have hurt us. The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are devoted to healing our relationships with others.

On Yom Kippur we ask God for forgiveness. Before Yom Kippur we are expected to make efforts to both forgive and seek forgiveness. It may be hard to make ourselves vulnerable, especially when we have been deeply hurt. Be gentle with yourself, but stretch yourself this month. Try to forgive others, even if they have not asked for forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. Blaming others keeps you stuck in a victim role that keeps you from opening to your true freedom and the new possibilities available in this coming year. Being angry is a waste of your precious vital energy. We cannot embrace fully the newness of this coming year if we are carrying the jealousy, anger, and resentments of past years. We cannot expect to receive God's forgiveness without first trying to forgive and to receive the forgiveness of others.

For example, you might say something like, "Please forgive me for anything I might have done to you or not done for you this last year. I love you, my relationship with you is important to me, and I want to start anew to strengthen it in this coming year." It is not necessary to stipulate specific offenses unless the person asks you to, because doing so often causes greater harm. Let's say you gossiped about a friend and your friend did not know. Because learning of your indiscretion would cause additional pain, it may be best not to reveal it.

In other scenarios, it may be quite clear to all parties what was done. Obtaining forgiveness might mandate some financial compensation or a commitment to act differently in the future. And it is possible that, when we ask for forgiveness, others might not be willing to give it to us. Our sages advise us to try three times, and even use intermediaries if necessary. The Rambam (Maimonides) recommended that you bring three friends with you when you approach a person you have hurt. But what happens if you have tried in all possible ways and are still unsuccessful? You may have to give the person some space and be patient. Pray for the person's welfare, and forgive yourself. Forgiveness is a process, and it is also a heavenly gift that comes through prayer and personal growth.

4. Try to maintain silence as much as possible and speak only words of prayer, blessing, love, and compassion to others.
Taking care with speech is a beneficial and powerful spiritual practice at any time of the year, but is particularly potent during this month and on Rosh Hashanah. This entire month is a time of judgment. As we judge others, so we are judged. Be watchful of your words and make an effort not to speak badly about other people, particularly on Rosh Hashanah. It is so easy to be careless and judgmental in our speech. When we speak badly about others, our spiritual energy is actually diminished and the negative inclination, known as the yetzer hara, is strengthened. The negativity we project onto others returns to us manifold.

5. Make an effort to be happy, even if you feel sad.
The great rebbe (rabbi) and kabbalist of the nineteenth century Reb Nachman of Breslov used to say that it is a great mitzvah (a good deed or commandment prescribed by the Torah) to always be happy. Being happy demonstrates our faith in the goodness of God.

This is not an easy mitzvah to do. Being happy does not mean that we are always jovial and smiling. It does not mean that we repress our real feelings and not allow ourselves to be sad when it is appropriate. Rather, it means that even when we're sad or heartbroken, we're still in touch with this place of inner happiness inside us, for we trust in God.

My rebbe, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, used to encourage us to dance and be happy on Rosh Hashanah, for by doing so we demonstrate our trust and faith in the goodness of God. And if, God forbid, it were decreed that we were not going to live to se the completion of the next year, we could actually change our fate by the joy we open up to on Rosh Hashanah. This is true for the entire month.

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