Prepent 5774: Day 19, Shame and Repentance
Facing our shame is difficult but vital in preparation for the Day of Atonement
Journey into the High Holidays with Amichai Lau-Lavie, founder of Storahtelling and the spiritual leader of Lab/Shul. It’s a daily dose of inspiration to get you focused and ready for the new year, featuring daily intentions, simple tasks, and tools for living better.
Taking one’s shirt off on the beach can be simple pleasure or a painful task, or something not even considered at all. It has to do with shame, which isn’t a popular conversation topic and, naturally, brings up a lot of emotional baggage. There’s the shame we carry about our bodies, our behaviors, what we have or don’t have, our failures and secret lusts.
Shame is such a powerful emotion that we are often too ashamed to admit it to ourselves, let alone to others. But like its siblings rage, pain, and fear, shame can be a blessing in disguise—a wake up call. For me, it’s a sharp reminder of areas in which I’m no longer on track, hauling luggage that I’m better off without.
This Prepent Journey, going deeper each day, requires confronting serious questions on the quest for better balance, a happier self, and a new page. Digging through the dirt is the only way to get there.
On the beach today I took off my shirt with ease, but not without recalling many moments when that wasn’t the case. I’ve struggled with body image for most of my adult life, often in the unforgiving gay urban context. Not having the perfect six-pack body has been a source of shame. The implication that I’m not disciplined enough to be healthier, stronger, and sexier triggers an even deeper sense of judgment and shame. It cuts to the core of feeling unloving and unloved. Layer by layer of emotional peeling leads me to a longing for self-love with no conditions: perfect as I am no matter the so-called flaws, beautiful because I feel so, not because you say so. Body shame is often about much deeper stuff.
In the past year, thanks to some help from a no-nonsense healer, I feel more in my body than ever, and even with the few pounds extra I’d still like to shed, shirtless beach days are a welcome change and a big blessing.
In the literature of Teshuva, this seasonal repentance, shame is critical; an honest moment in front of the mirror. It’s about owning our actions, our reactions, admitting our shortcomings, and committing to change. There’s courage in facing our shame and naming it—and great freedom in letting it go.
What have I been ashamed of this past year? Saying I’m sorry to myself, in the mirror, is perhaps the best way to start.
Follow along with the Scroll’s daily Prepent series here.
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