“My son was volunteering at a homeless shelter. In walked one of his high school classmates. I’m proud that he ran into the kitchen and helped there so his classmate would not see him.”
After an amazing year of working on the shadow-side soul traits, my Mussar practice was in a rut. My focus was on learning Hebrew, looking ahead to Rabbinical school, and taking care of my daughters who had their wisdom teeth out in successive weeks. And don’t get me started on the ups and downs of the Warriors quest to win another championship.
None of which actually preclude my Mussar practice, although each of them are feeding my Evil Inclination, to distract me from what is important. To be clear, Mussar is never far from my thoughts, but I haven’t been systematically working on a particular soul trait, with a mantra, mindful action and journaling. Hence, my Mussar practice is in a rut.
That started to change when I decided to donate an old computer to clear out space on my cluttered so-called desk. I erased the memory, re-installed the operating system, and posted on Nextdoor for ideas on where to donate it.
I was shocked at how many people wanted it. I got the expected suggestions for schools to give to college bound kids, and non-profits. I did not expect a personal request from a young adult working full time and going to school. Or this note
“…we have a single mom who works for us as a cleaner & has just started her 1st set of classes to become a preschool teacher. A MacBook Pro would be an AMAZING gift to her. She is hard working & wants to better her life so her kids have a better life too.”
The person I choose is local, working, in school, and is always posting on Nextdoor offering to housesit or to feed pets. She wrote to me, “Words can’t describe how grateful I feel reading your message this morning.”
After I read this email, I felt profoundly different, in a way that can be explained by the Mussar masters. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto wrote in Path of the Just “One who perceives a quickening of his outer movements… conditions himself to experience a flaming inner movement.” Or put another way, taking action changes our inner world.
Teachings about the soul trait of Generosity go even further. One of the spiritual traps we can fall into is a “stopped up heart.” This is a barrier that prevents us from connecting with others. Perhaps it is a result of past hurts, or just something that has happened as external events or internal habits distract us from what is important. Whatever the cause, giving to others is a way of opening the heart.
This is exactly where I was with my Mussar rut – too focused on tasks and my own stuff, and not enough on the external world. Giving away the computer to a specific person opened my heart, and got me out of my rut. Which brings us to a Generosity Mussar Practice:
Once you’ve successfully done an act of generosity, do another one the next day, and again the next. Can you do one extra generous thing seven days in a row?
I guarantee that if you try to push yourself, you’ll find the voice of resistance in your head. In his book Everyday Holiness, Alan Morinis points out that this voice can take many forms, like rationalization, or fear. By stepping into this resistance, we can learn more about what holds us back. Each time we give anyway, we open the heart just a bit more.
In invite you to join me in doing one generous thing every day for the next seven days. I’ll start my day with the mantra “Open your hand to open your heart,” and will journal about my experiences at night.
If you’d like to join me, or have another thought, please comment below. It doesn’t matter when you start. Generosity can and will open your heart to the wonderful souls you share the earth with.