What Kol Nidre Did

So, if you ever read the bottom of any of these posts, you will read that I am a singer, and even though I am not doing this professionally anymore, I still find a lot of enjoyment and pleasure in singing around the house or at temple. When I was asked to sing during the Kol Nidre on Erev Yom Kippur, I was immediately excited at the opportunity to get in front of people and sing, as I had been performing for most of my life. 

Ah, Performing. This is where my thinking was askew. I thought that I would be performing for the rest of the temple during the singing of the Kol Nidre toward the beginning of the service of the same name. Little did I know just how disparate this experience would be from any other “singing in front of people” experience I had ever taken part in prior. 

First, let’s delve into my psychology education a bit for a buzzword. Flow. What is it? According to positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (If you make a video of yourself pronouncing that surname and send it to me, I will be impressed. I will also not know if you’re actually correct. So, go ahead!) flow is that feeling you get when you are completely enveloped in an experience. Time often moves slowly, or goes by rather quickly. Action and awareness begin to merge into one, and self-consciousness soars out the window. Flow is achieved when the experience is the reward itself. There is no goal, only the moment. 

Whoa. Yeah. A flow state is incredible, but not always easily attainable. However, when I stood up in front of the bimah at my schul, surrounded by a group of Jews that had come together to pray, I listened for the opening chords of the Kol Nidre. I closed my eyes, and singing started to simply come out of my body. Allow me a quick digression. To be honest…during most of my singing and performing career, I was taught to be prepared and to think about what I was doing at all times. Cognition was often key, and it was usually a somewhat herculean struggle to think about something like where to move during a song, while simultaneously emotionally investing. How would the audience receive the performance? How would the reviews be? When was my next costume change? You get the picture. I never left my body in any sort of metacognitively recognizable way when I was singing for an audience. I was a performer and audience members were the spectators. Self-consciousness was the name of the game as a professional performer.

Back to the schul on Erev Yom Kippur. Again, singing started to flow out of me. I was chanting these ancient Aramaic words, and I felt a sense of connectedness to thousands of years of some indescribable entity. There was a heightened quality to my senses while I became completely lost in the hauntingly beautiful melody and phrasing. I stopped caring about notes, and about that phrasing…about performing. I was not performing at all. I was experiencing something with souls that surrounded me. I was flowing, and it was an experience that might have seemed like the singing of the Kol Nidre for a minute and thirty seconds to some, but felt like a soul changing experience for me. As I eventually sauntered back to my seat, I realized that the sides of my eyes were wet, as though tears had begun to form in some very innermost part of myself. The rest of the service was icing on the cake from that point. 

What brings you into a state of flow? Do you know? If you aren’t sure, I recommend you try engaging in an activity you love for the sheer enjoyment of it. Prayer itself can bring flow, but the mind can easily wander. With the anxieties of life, it is so easy to be distracted from living in the exact moment, but wow, when it happens, it is certainly an experience that does not leave you quickly.

I hope that I can find some level of flow again soon, but if not, I really do hope I get to sing the Kol Nidre again next Yom Kippur. 



Published by Joshua Gray

I am Joshua Gray. I am a husband, father, not-for-profit-worker by day, and a former professional actor/singer. I am very active in the Jewish community in my area, helping to teach at religious school on Sundays, while also serving on the board of trustees at my local temple. My relationship with Judaism is a joy of mine, and I find great pleasure in studying texts and learning more and more Hebrew. I still enjoy warbling tunes, and I even got to sing the Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur, which was a definite highlight. Please feel free to contact me with any ideas for topics, conversations, or general inquiries. Shalom!

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