Recently I got the following question by email:
I’ve seen you write on several occasions that we all have a Divine Spark. I don’t believe it. I need external validation. My Divine Spark is flickering. It is very faint. What advice can you give me?
– Dark Inside
Dear Dark Inside,
Thank you for having the courage to admit that is how you feel. You are not alone. I also need external validation. As I shared in my book – despite my Ph.D. from MIT, and string of career successes, I felt worthless. To this day, I still fight those feelings, but thanks to Mussar they are not nearly as strong as they used to be.
My advice? Stop trying to believe that you have a Divine Spark. Rather, assume you have a Divine Spark. When we assume something to be true, we act as if it is, and don’t waste mental energy wondering and debating. Then, when a voice of doubt starts to talk in your head, you can answer with confidence based on this assumption. (See this excerpt which explains the Four Assumptions of American Mussar)
Moreover, the full assumption that I teach in The Spiritual Practice of Good Actions is that we all have a Divine Spark that is occluded by our baggage. When we practice Mussar, it helps us move the bags and let the light shine through. Or as Leonard Cohen wrote, the cracks let the light in.
I love the image of a flickering Divine Spark that you share. It is wonderful, because the flickering is caused by the baggage, not any defect in your spark. Again, you don’t need to believe it, just assume it is true, and use that as a basis for your Mussar practice.
Ask yourself, what if it were true that you have a Divine Spark? How would that change your self image, even for a moment? Rabbi Akiva taught that we were given two gifts, a Divine Spark and the knowledge that we have a Divine Spark. (Pirkei Avot 3:14). Knowing that you have a Divine Spark gives you the knowledge and comfort that you already have everything you need.
Remember that Mussar practice is a practice. By practice, I mean something that we do every day. We practice a musical instrument so that when the concert arrives, we play better. We practice Mussar to exercise our spiritual muscles in small situations. Then, when the challenge arrives, we find ourselves acting in a different way.
I encourage you to commit to your Mussar practice. Simply reading this post will not get you anywhere. In fact, your Evil Inclination may take this opportunity to make you feel better. Simply being reassured will set you back unless you allow that feeling to empower you to take action.
Each time you take action, you make a small change in your soul. Slowly, slowly over time the small changes will add up. The good news is that the more out of balance you feel, the more opportunity you have to make progress quickly.
So pick a soul trait, any soul trait, and commit to it for two weeks. Do the mantra, observe mindfully through the day, pick one small area for change, and journal at night. (I know, we all hate the journaling part.) Just write a few words on your napkin after dinner.
The next time you think your Divine Spark is faint, don’t sweat it. It just appears to be faint, the the corona around the sun during a lunar eclipse. Just assume the sun is burning brightly, and moving the moon even a bit will restore light to the world.
Greg, practitioner, facilitator, and innovator of American Mussar
Not sure which soul trait to start with? Take the Soul Trait Profile Quiz for inspiration.
Want to learn more? Check out the list of Mussar books.