Without getting into great detail, I fucked up something today (obviously not the first time), and feel really badly about it. But I also realize that that mistake is over and all I can do is move forward. I really like this idea from Karen Stabiner of "atonement flipped on its ear." Mainly because I think for many of us, it's the natural impulse to dwell pretty much forever on the mistakes. I do, even when there's no possible way I can undo them.
The mistakes I make in my personal life I tend to re-make ad nauseam, which pretty much defeats the point of atoning for them, to G-d or to myself. So that's all, just something I thought was worthwhile. I'm reading Charlotte Kasl's If The Buddha Got Stuck, among the five books I'm carting around, and not living in the past, remaining present, and taking action are all prominent points. See her site and her 16-step plan for more info.
Apologies are our day-to-day atonements, and lately it seems to me that they're tossed off reflexively, sometimes in the midst of the bad act itself; people seem to think they can leaven misbehavior with a shrug and a "sorry." You can tell they don't mean it; you can tell they're going to do exactly the same thing to someone else tomorrow, and shrug and apologize, and then do it again. Undoubtedly not what organized religion has in mind, which may be the reason my dad took refuge in temple even when there wasn't a formal service. The chanting and the singing and the silent reading changed the pace of his day and maybe, just maybe, brought him to moments of personal reflection. He had time not just to apologize but to think about how he might be a worthier guy down the line.
If his strategy didn't work for me, in the long run [thanks primarily to the soul-scorching tenure of an awfully self-righteous rabbi when I was a teen], I was still my father's daughter, still in need of some kind of spiritual frame. When our daughter was born, the need became an imperative, and so I distilled for Sarah the parts of my childhood that felt like faith. Our family became holiday central for dozens of people on Hannukah and Passover, the happy holidays, the ones where we eat and drink and give presents and celebrate that our ancestors had escaped yet again and we are all together. The High Holidays? Always a plate of apples and honey to welcome the new year, even though my husband and daughter love the former and aggressively dislike the latter. And always a conversation about what we might do better in the coming year, which is atonement flipped on its ear. I like having an active assignment. I like not just asking to be forgiven, but promising to learn from the trespasses of the past. I may not look for lessons alongside hundreds of other people dressed in good wool suits, like my dad did, but I look. We have that in common.
See also: "Atonement" at Joho the Blog, about Atonement and the Internet