Years ago, I learned from the late Rabbi David Wolfe-Blank about a spiritual practice of reviewing one’s life in seven year increments, a Sephirah (counting) of life. It’s a great exercise to do around your birthday or anytime you want to take stock.
The Shmittah or Sabbatical Year is a biblically-mandated practice of letting the earth lie fallow and rest every seventh year. We counted 7×7 cycles of years and then had the Jubilee, the fiftieth year. Each year, we count 7 days times x 7 weeks during the period from Passover to Shavuot, known as Sephirat Ha-Omer, and seen by the mystics as a time for introspection for personal growth. This practice of sacred review and counting can also be applied to the cycles of our lives.
There are many ways to do this review. It’s nice to take some time to relax and allow images of the past to surface. You could also look up some music and images of those years online, or look through old family albums for inspiration.
If your mind tends to be more linear, make a time line for each seven year period, and fill in important events in your life and the larger world. You could also record by hand in a journal with blank pages, perhaps in your Spiritual Journal. Head each 2 page spread page with a stretch of seven years: 1-7, 8-14, 15-21, etc., to your current age. You can then divide each of the facing pages in half horizontally, thus creating four quadrants across the two pages. You might label these: People, Places, Experiences & Milestones, World Events. Or you might want to be more free form and poetic, collecting words and images to describe what you experienced and learned during that seven year cycle. If you are more of a visual person, you might want to add photos to your journal or create a collage of physical photos, or digitally using an app. If you like to touch and hold things, you might create treasure boxes of mementos from each period.
You can also create pages for envisioning the upcoming cycles of seven that you hope to live and write or illustrate your aspirations for the future. I put the Hebrew letters בע”ה at the top right corner of the page to stand for “Be-Ezrat Hashem,” with the help of God.
There are so many ways to see our lives. Sometimes we view our years in a linear way, like a timeline. But we could see our lives as a flower blooming, an unfolding, a journey, a flowing stream in which our soul stands still amidst the constant changes. After my mother died, I had a vision of my life and my ancestor’s lives like a Torah scroll unscrolling.
The Jewish gift of time is to see it both as a linear progression— a vision of a better tomorrow—and to treasure time as a sacred cycle of recurring themes and truths that we revisit each year. Rabbi Michael Strassfeld combined the two paradigms by describing Jewish time as a kind of rising helix, like the spiral ramp at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. In the annual cycle of the Jewish holidays, we keep returning to the same lessons with the seasons of each year, but each year we do it from a new vantage point that allows us a larger perspective. And so over the course of our lives, imagine the seven year cycles as turnings that take us to a new level, returning to many recurring themes of our lives but with greater perspective.
Flower on the Big Island of Hawaii, Elisheva Danan