Monday, September 6, 2010

My Spiritual Cleanse - 2010/5771 - Part (-2)

My Spiritual Cleanse - 2010/5771

I've decided to do a spiritual cleanse this High Holy Day season. The period between Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur is traditionally a time to clean up your life before atoning for all your sins. Once you're immaculate you ask that God to write you in the 'Book of Life' for another year and hope you're clean enough that He says “Yeah. We can do that.”

The High Holy Days are literally about life and death. That's some heavy shit to lay on a little mind while growing up as I experienced as a child, but as I turn 40 in just a few weeks (October 22, 2010), life's bigger questions are staring me squarely in the face. Questions of family, job, career, finance, relationships, happiness, health, marriage, children and more.

This IS a test. And currently, I'm not scoring too well. This year, I've gotten into bigger fights with my family than I ever have in my life. I'm unemployed with no prospects for a job. Despite having just finished my first manuscript for a book, my career feels stuck/in it's infancy/still born. My bank account is lower than it's ever been. I'm sometimes happy, but often frustrated at my lack of success in things I've articulated as goals - especially for the last 6 years. I'm not married or have children (those are two big goals). And I'm in another (semi) long-distance relationship with a wonderful girl who I see on what feels like a regular series of lovely mini-vacations. So, if you're calculating my score at home, I get a nearly failing grade in many of those subjects which are the core courses at the School of Life.

That assessment alone would give me pause enough to take stock in some big way this year. But there's more. This year, I went on three dates with a girl who tried to kill herself and blamed me. I got into a contentious fight with a rabbi over a bill before the Israeli Knesset around issues of conversion, such that I'm not currently speaking with him. And lastly, this year I've had the worst series of dates and sex in my life (both as infrequent as bad) over the course of the year before meeting Meg.

If that wasn't enough, this was the kicker. I had a near death experience a month ago.

Now, let me explain. It wasn't a real near death experience, but I thought it was.

Just a few weeks ago, I was lying in bed, trying to fall asleep. And just at that moment when you feel yourself beginning to physically fall, as though your head is bending back into the mattress, a thought took a hold of me as clear as day in its truth.

“I am not going to wake up.”

So I fought to stay awake. My eyes were already closed. The lights were out. My roommate was not home. It was 2AM and I knew if I fell asleep that would be it. I would be done. Dead. Gone. Disappeared into Nothing.

And I did not want to die. I panicked and fought to stay awake the way a drowning man who can't swim fights to reach the surface. It felt physical though I don't think I moved more than a twitch. But I couldn't surmount the pressures of the sea of sleep and in the throes of mental horror I was taken down. It may have been the most terrifying experience of my life.

I woke the next morning. Amazed and relieved. But I had no idea what to do about this. Or with this. I'd never experienced anything like it. I've had anxiety, where I've had trouble getting to sleep. I've had depression that's kept me immobile, inactive and paralyzed under my sheets during daylight hours for days. I'd even recently experienced panic attacks at my job. But this was radically different. And I didn't tell anyone. I didn't know if other people went through this at some time as well, if this was a rite of passage as you near 40, or if this was deeply abnormal. I didn't know if it was a sign, if it was an indication that something was going on in my life, or if it was just the weed.

That brings me to another issue. For many years now, I have not known how to put myself to bed. My parents did that for me when I was a child. Once I hit puberty I began a ritual, indulging in a nightly fantasy, which has remained intact for almost 28 years. Through my 20s, I worked on my operas 'til exhaustion knocked me out around 2AM most of the time. After 9/11 however, going to sleep got to be a problem. First I overdosed on CNN, then I dropped that and added The Daily Show to my nighttime remedy. I moved back to LA and broke my leg in 2005. The pain was extraordinary and Ambien didn't work, so I tried marijuana instead (which I'd had maybe half a dozen times previously) and that sent me towards such a sleep I've since come to think of it like a nightcap.

When I share my bed I don't need any of these things. There's a calming influence of sleeping with someone. But that hasn't been for very much of the last 7 years. And when I'm alone, I now have the trifecta to defeat sleep each night. Pot, The Daily Show and Masturbation. Sleep doesn't stand a chance. One or all of these are part of a nightly ritual. But I feel like I should be able to just lay me down on my own. I feel like there's something wrong that I rely on all that. (Though I should say I have a harder time when The Daily Show goes on break than when I'm not smoking. And I almost never go to bed alone unsatisfied.)

But I feel I have a good relationship with putting myself to bed. And I thought I could use a spiritual cleansing around that.

Lucky for me, during those 10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, you're supposed to make amends with all those you have wronged during the year. So you can go to God with a clean conscience on Yom Kippur. In addition to the spiritual and the interpersonal, there is a physical aspect, the fast on Yom Kippur. AND I just found out there's an additional fasting day which I've never observed. I'd never even heard of it before. It's called “Fast of Gedalia”** It's a one day fast the Saturday before Yom Kippur and I thought, “What if I took that fast and extended it for the entire 10 days I'm supposed to be getting ready to atone?”

It was a little crazy, so I liked it.

And that's what I decided I would do. I'd do a spiritual cleanse for 10 days including:
1) Reading from the torah publicly
2) Private Prayer
3) Making amends with people
4) And a 10 day fast.

Day 1 starts Thursday morning, September 8.

I'm blogging about this starting a eight days later, but I'll be posting every day to keep the same flow.

Wish me luck.


**Gedalia was appointed ruler of Judah by king Nebuchadnezzar (c. 600 B.C.E.) after the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the First Temple and all of Israel. He was assassinated by Jews who considered him either a collaborator or simply unfit to rule because he was not from the royal line. After this assassination, most all Jews fled Judah and Israel for fear of retribution by the Babylonians and Israel was left desolate. (accounts can be found in: 2 Kings 25:25-26, Jeremiah chapter 41 and Zechariah 8:19)


  1. Good luck, and don't fast on the railroad tracks. You'll pass out and a train will come and cleanse you right over the great divide.

    And as I'm turning 45 in about 8 days, I'll tell you a theory of mine: if you're still single when that comes, give it up. I'm convinced it means that you may think you're a romantic, but you're really a loner at heart.


  2. Thanks Bethanie! I'll try to stay away from trains all together.

  3. heya, I'm following your blog.
    I think your sleep rituals are probably more commonly shared than you might think. And your right - sleping with another person does tend to cancel the need for anything else and balance life out.

    And I have a lot of friends who don't find the love of their life or their career until well into their 40's.