Few things are as daunting as introspection—listening to the heart’s honest reports, the soul’s blunt assessments, and the mind’s raw observations of oneself. After all, who but the best of us can endure it, and who even among them can walk away from it cheerful?
The first step, though, is perhaps the hardest. It calls for being alone and having the self face the self straight on. “Good to see you today,” the conversation might begin; or, “So tell me, what’ve you been up to?” And like all conversations, there will be some stepping back and forth from here to there, some humming, and some stunned silence. But then at some point the self will earnestly begin to question things.
What better time than summer to take stock of where we are. How satisfied are we? Do we feel joy? Are we fulfilling our purpose in life? (Do we even know what our purpose is?) How meaningful are our relationships? Are we a force for good in the world?
Introspection (hitbonenut nafshit atzmit) can help us discover where we are in life and in relationship with others. By taking the time to go inside and examine our lives, we activate the middah (soul trait) of Zehirut (Awareness). This light of awareness points the way to areas needing improvement. But how do we get started?
Having lost my father to a fatal automobile accident at the age of 1, I have always been on a journey to find connectivity and meaning. Introspection. At the end of the day, before you drift off to sleep, do you often review the day, sensing whether it was good or bad, a small victory or a defeat? Do these nightly reviews add up after a little while and give you a sense of whether your life is on the right trajectory, if you are living in line with your values, if you are directing your efforts towards your true purpose? Do you have a sense of your true purpose?
What happens when you mix two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen together? This is not a trick question. You know the answer. It gives you the most important element of life on earth, water.
What happens when you have a generous, humble, enthusiastic and compassionate community member who is a student of Mussar and a community professional staff hungering for Jewish learning? Yes, it is the Buffalo Jewish Community Professional Staff Development program of Mussar!
I recently sat down with Rob Mass, a board member for The Mussar Institute, for an extended interview about his personal experience with Mussar. In Part I last month, Rob shared his Mussar Journey. In Part II this month, he shares stories from his professional life which illustrate the value of Mussar in his workplace on Wall Street.
Rob: I’ll tell you a couple of stories about Mussar in the workplace, because to me, the real test of the value of Mussar is how it affects your life. Before I get to the workplace, though, I’ll tell you that it was when my wife told me that she thought I was a better person because of Mussar—that I was kinder to people who were less fortunate (I wasn’t aware I was unkind but she said she’d noticed the change in me and she really liked it)—that I began to realize that Mussar was having a real impact. So I’ll tell you three sets of stories about Mussar in the workplace.
The Mussar Institute is still fund-raising for a digital overhaul of our online presence and course sites. The first 15 people who make a tax-deductible donation in any amount to TMI for this purpose will receive two free audio CDs of Mussar talks by TMI teachers.
If you are interested, please contact Jeff Agron at firstname.lastname@example.org for a special link to make your donation. Supplies are limited, so this offer will be available to the first 15 donors only.
Introspection is a basic practice of the Mussar tradition. When we engage in honest introspection, we will inevitably uncover inconsistencies and middot that are out of balance. It is important to realize that on some level each of us lives with inconsistencies. So what are we to do when we uncover them? How do we maintain a generosity of spirit to ourselves even when facing a process of honest, self-critical analysis that reveals areas that need improvement?
The Mussar masters identify three essential principles:
- Be like a physician diagnosing a patient. Leave emotion aside. There is certainly a time for the emotions to get involved, but that is not now. Treat your deficiencies as a doctor would when uncovering something wrong with his or her patient—even though here you are the patient as well. Remain calm and collected: “I see that I do this. What can I do to improve in this area?”
- Never define yourself by your failings. Always remember that in essence you are a pure and holy soul. Within you, at your innermost core, are purity, truth and goodness. Focus on knowing that you have the power to change and to act with greater consistency and integrity.
- Do not underestimate the value of desiring to change! Reveal within yourself the desire to grow, to act with greater consistency and integrity. Mussar teaches that getting in touch with the desire to change will actually cause change on every level of your being. We cannot change overnight. What we can and must do is desire to change.
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