Practice is inherent in the Mussar tradition. In order to develop, change, or transform on a journey toward holiness, knowledge in itself, is inadequate. While the pathway starts with learning, knowledge needs to come to life. Practice is what embeds the learning in the heart so that it becomes the fabric of who you are. For example, the lazy person becomes energetic; the miserly person becomes generous.
Mussar students practice one trait for one or two weeks, often in a series of 13, moving through 4 cycles of 13 traits in a year.
Mussar practice involves three core practices.
In the morning, students focus on one selected soul trait or middah. They use a phrase, often in Hebrew, to recite in such a way as to enliven and energize the soul.
In the evening, the practice is to keep a journal. Students look back over the day and record the events of the day where the middah showed up. I would ask myself, if I were working on generosity, where did it show up? How did I react? I would write about the situation in an objective way. The journal is a way of highlighting the experience so that as time goes on one starts to see a pattern. Once you know you are going to be keeping a journal, as the day plays out, the thought of keeping a journal will “flag” your experience. It will help you build awareness. Journaling is an effective practice as long as it is done regularly.
Between the morning and the evening, the Mussar student gives himself or is assigned an exercise, a kaballah. For example, you might do three generous acts today. One day, generosity with your money, another, your feelings, another, your possessions. You can be generous in so many ways. The goal is not the practice per se, it is to transform the inner being of the individual so that you move closer to the ideal of what a human being can be. For every quality, we know there are exercises from the 19th century and earlier. From the video, Mussar Practice, with Dr. Alan Morinis, Founder, The Mussar Institute.
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