I am at my favorite Philz, drinking coffee, and reflecting on the past two years since American Mussar was founded. I’ve looked through so many of your stories, and am inspired and humbled by the ways that Mussar is changing your lives. 2018 is a year of blessing – 18 stands for life, and this year I am dedicated to helping you deepen your mussar practice. Below I’ll share five Mussar practices you can try. But first some background.
The last few months have been rough for me, with three parents in the hospital at various times with serious conditions. All three are on the mend thank goodness. The experience has really offered me lots of grist for the Mussar mill. Mussar has made it much easier for me to keep perspective, and to give myself time to recover my energy after difficult conversations before pushing on.
As is often the case with life, personal struggles can come against the backdrop of successes in other parts of life. As the American Mussar community has grown to over 1800 on the American Mussar Facebook page, and 5000 on the email list, your stories have been an inspiration to me to help me get through. Here are a few of the key highlights from 2017:
1. The Transform Yourself Through Jewish Wisdom Weekend was an amazingly transformative experience. I got to meet some of you there, and heard from many others who were not able to attend. This was our first live weekend event. The ten of us ended with our arms around each other, resolving to use the weekend as a springboard for change. One participant, Dr Dan Brown of San Diego said, “The Program has changed the trajectory of my life for the better.”
For me personally, it was also a breakthrough. You see, I struggle to feel satisfied. For all of my accomplishments, from MIT to the corporate world to my books, I never felt a sense of contentment like I did after this weekend. Yes, working to digest and unpack how Mussar can change your life left me with the highest feelings of satisfaction I have had. And since then, I’ve caught myself being happy and satisfied on multiple occasions. This may be commonplace for you, but for me it is a new and unique experience. If you have an opportunity to do an immersive experience like this one from any teacher you like, do it!
2. Stories of how Mussar is changing your lives. Here are a few examples:
• Healed sibling rivalry: You shared how Mussar helped you heal a 30 year sibling rivalry situation, and you chose to enjoy the holidays with people you rarely see rather than get sucked into old patterns.
• Loving Kindness: The blessing of being reminded of the impact you have on other people when you remember to practice Loving Kindness.
• Humility: You recognized how strongly you feel the need to be heard, and that sometimes it is too much for others. And you shared how it stemmed from a traumatic experience in your past. That recognition is a key step on the path to transformation.
I am so touched because you’ve let me touch you in this way.
3. I am particularly grateful to my 1:1 coaching clients. It has been a privilege to listen to your stories, and work with you to overcome those things holding you back and causing unnecessary suffering in your lives. To see you grow and thrive has been the best part of my week.
4. You let me into your lives through the book too. In the 15 months since The Spiritual Practice of Good Actions: Finding Balance Through the Soul Traits of Mussar was published, you’ve bought almost 2000 copies, and left more than 50 Reviews on Amazon. The latest particularly touches my heart. This book is changing my life …it takes the daunting and seemingly insurmountable spiritual journey of improving one’s character and reduces it to taking the first step, then the next, and so on. Read the full review here .
5. Rolling out the American Mussar Parenting Curriculum by working with lay leaders at two large synagogues. With just a few hours of training, anyone can use these materials to facilitate a mussar parenting group. One leader, from Temple Isaiah in Lafayette CA said the following after just two meetings, “I’m amazed at how the teachings are already having a positive effect on people’s lives.”
The key to Mussar is taking action, and you are discovering that taking one small step is everything – it is the whole game, because a first step leads to a second step and then a third step. But if you don’t take that first step, the journey never begins. Once you’ve taken it, you’ll begin building resilience to pick the practice up again with much less activation energy.
My focus for 2018 is to help you deepen your Mussar practice. There is no one size fits all solution. Here are five Mussar practices you could try. I don’t care which one you pick, but pick one.
1. Read a Mussar book. Here is a list of classic and modern Mussar books to choose from.
2. Schedule a free one hour strategy consultation with me. I love these calls. I listen, and then help you start to craft a strategy to become unstuck, get through a transition, or get to the next level in your practice. If you’d like to schedule the call, just click here to schedule one.
3. Sign up for the American Mussar Sampler program. For 13 weeks, you’ll get an email with practice prompts with a link to a video to give you a structure to practice the 13 soul traits in The Spiritual Practice of Good Actions. The cost of the sampler is $24 – a discount off the regular price of $36. As a special bonus, I’ll include a copy of the matching mantra cards, which have a retail value of $18 with free shipping within the US. Click Here to Order.
4. Sign up for the waiting list for the upcoming Mussar intensive courses. This will be a series of one month virtual Mussar groups each focused on a particular issue. Planning for the Mussar intensives will begin soon – we’ll be asking for your advice. By signing up for the waiting list, you will have the first opportunity to sign up for the class, and get a discount. Sign Up Here
5. Try a Patience Practice from the Mussar Parenting Curriculum. Sign up at the bottom of the info page here, and I’ll send you the participants and facilitators guides for you to review and select a practice.
My heart is really full because the practice is spreading. Please comment below and let me know what you are deciding to do. Let me tell you, if you are thinking to yourself, “I really should do this, but I have too much going on,” take my advice and just go ahead and do it. It will be a step forward. When in doubt, do the phone call. Nothing is more precious than your time, and if after 30 minutes you think it is a waste of time, we can end it then and there with no hard feelings.
As Rabbi Hillel said, “If I am not for myself who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
2018 is a year of blessing – 18 stands for life, and this year I am dedicated to helping you deepen your mussar practice.
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash