October Middot – JOY (Simcha)
Joy is experienced when we are connected to our divine souls. “The greatest mitzvah,” writes Rebbe nachman of Breslov, “is to live in an abiding state of joy.” Doing mitzvot brings joy, whether, whether we are focused on serving the needs of others or dedicating ourselves to a divine purpose. The act of self-transcendence brings joy. Joy is both the origin and outcome of our most sublime thoughts and deeds. It enables us to reach beyond our small selves to connect both with our innermost being and with other beings. While depression closes doors, joy opens all the gateways. We cultivate this virtue by fostering an awareness of our deep interconnection with all Being.
September Middot – EQUANIMITY (Shivyon nefesh)
(Excerpts from Alan Morinis)
Jewish sources use several terms to name the soul-trait of undisturbed equanimity. The most descriptive is menuchat ha’nefesh, calmness of the soul.
The calm soul is centered and rides on an inner even keel, regardless of what is happening within and around you. Even as the waves are rising and falling, the calm soul rides the crest, staying upright, balanced, and moving in the direction you choose, though exquisitely sensitive to the forces that are at work all around.
Having the soul-trait of equanimity doesn’t spell the end of our struggles, but rather is an inner quality that equips us to handle them. What guidance does our Jewish tradition offer in the way of inner calmness?
In his letter to his son, Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (the Ramban) advises: “distance yourself from anger.” And in the Orchos Chaim[Ways of Life] of the Rosh, we are advised, “distance yourself from pride.” This phrase, “distance yourself,” shows up elsewhere as well. We are surely not being told never to be angry, proud, jealous, etc., because Mussar teachers consistently assert that this would be an unrealistic goal — everyone experiences the full range of inner states, and in and of themselves, every inner trait is neither good nor bad. More important is how we respond to what we feel.
“Distance yourself,” then, can mean only two things. Either we are to stay physically far from people who are angry, proud, etc., or we are being directed to develop some kind of inner distance from the experience of our own anger, pride, and other incendiary middot.
Although there are definitely times when we ought to stand away from powerful outer forces, we should be less concerned about falling under external influences than we should the impulses that arise in us. The guidance we are being given here is to cultivate an inner attitude that creates some distance between the stimulus that comes at us and our reactions to it.
The most touted way to cultivate an inner witness is through meditation. While sitting still and silent, many inner states will arise, and over time you can get quite good at living in their presence without feeling that you are a slave to any of them, whether repugnant or alluring.
I’d like to offer another way to practice to the same end, one that encourages the experience of the witness in every context in which you might find yourself. Rabbi Steinsaltz describes the Jewish spiritual experience as a constant beckoning to the light. If we take that word “constant” seriously, then the light we seek must be present at all times and in all situations, no matter how murky or even dark they appear to us.
Keep an eye out for that light, then over time you will grow to be increasingly aware of the radiant Presence that is a constant in the ever-shifting contexts in which you live.
An inner eye connected to the constant light won’t give you a life of fewer challenges and struggles, but it will give you equanimity from which to engage. Perhaps that is why the Alter of the Kelm school of Mussar tells us: “A person who has mastered peace of mind has gained everything.“
August Middot – AWE (Yirah)
1. When a human being experiences yirah, that experience directly awakens a spiritual consciousness just as an alarm clock awakens a sleeping person. Compared to the moments of yirah, we may, indeed, be asleep much of our lives. When overtaken by yirah, we experience a tremendous spiritual reality that is ordinarily hidden from us. Yirah gives us a direct experience of the Transcendent in that very moment, pointing our hearts directly to the divine Presence.
Through the extraordinary experiences that generate yirah, you become acquainted with the spiritual charge that is available to you in every moment of the day. If you undertake to grow that experience in you, as you become more adept at finding yirah, you will find it arising in you not only in the extraordinary like birth and death, great mammals and kaleidoscopic sunsets, but in a cup of tea, a flower, the ability to hear, and almost everywhere. –Alan Moranis (website: http://www.mussarinstitute.org/)
2. Heavy with Wonder
To become aware of the ineffable is to part company with words…The tangent to the curve of human experience lies beyond the limits of language. The world of things we perceive is but a veil. Its flutter is music, its ornament science, but what it conceals is inscrutable. Its silence remains unbroken; no words can carry it away.
Sometimes we wish the world could cry and tell us about that which made it pregnant with fear-filling grandeur.
Sometimes we wish our own heart would speak of that which made it heave with wonder. –Abraham Joshua Heschel
3. Where there is no wisdom, there is no awe.
Where there is no awe, there is no wisdom.-Pirkei Avot 3:21
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.― Albert Einstein
4. Lifting the Veil
G*d is not always silent, and man is not always blind. In every man’s life there are moments when there is a lifting of the veil at the horizon of the known, opening a sight of the eternal. Each of us has at least once in his life experienced the momentous reality of G*d. Each of us has once caught a glimpse of the beauty, peace and power that flow through the souls of those who are devoted to Him. But such experiences are rare events. To some people they are like shooting stars, passing and unremembered. In others they kindle a light that is never quenched. The remembrance of that experience and the loyalty to the response of that moment are the forces that sustain our faith. In this sense faith is faithfulness, loyalty to an event, loyalty to our response. –Abraham Joshua Heschel
The intentional awareness of, and sensitivity to the impact of one’s words. This applies to being boundaried about the amount of one’s speech, as well as the content of one’s speech. The practice of Tikkun Middot particularly emphasizes the lure and potential damage to all involved of gossip and disparaging talk about another.
For our classes Repairing the World From the Inside Out – Tikkun Middot Programs
June Middot – TRUTH/COURAGE (Emet/Ometz Lev)
Tikkun Middot is a path that combines mindfulness, study, and practice that reveals universal truths through specific examples. Through introspection and engagement, one’s experiences are explored and ultimately understood as a truth that is beyond one’s own life. In reflecting on private struggles, we better understand the struggles of humanity — itself composed of billions of individuals struggling with their own lives.
“Personal and intellectual honesty are essential to my life as a seeker. “
-Arthur Green, Radical Judaism
The soul and society both require that we make a commitment to truth, but not in a rigid sort of naïve way. The Mussar tradition offers us more mature and down-to-earth guidance based on the recognition that in this complex life, different values can compete with one another in any given situation, and literal truth isn’t always meant to be the victor. It is given over to us, in our humanity, to use our judgment to define truth and to decide how to apply it.
We have to let truth emerge from our judgment and to accept that that puts the onus on us to maintain a very strong inner compass…If we listen to our own heart of hearts with sensitive ears, we will receive the guidance that directs us to “where the real truth lies”.
— Alan Morinis
Truth is only discovered in the moment.
There is no truth that can be carried over
to the next moment, the next day, the next year.
Truth comes into the non-seeking mind fresh and alive.
It is not something you can carry with you, accumulate, or hold onto.
Truth leaps into view when the mind is quiet, not asserting itself.
You cannot contain or domesticate truth, for if you do, it dies instantly.
Truth prowls the unknown waiting for a gap in the mind’s activity.
When that gap is there, the truth leaps out of the unknown into the known.
Instantly you comprehend it and sense its sacredness.
The timeless has broken through like a flash of lightning
and illuminated the moment with its presence.
Truth comes to an innocent mind as a blessing.
Truth is a holy thing because it liberates thought from itself
and illumines the human heart from the inside out.
May Middot – Honor (Kavod)
Kavod is about recognition, dignity and honor.
The first step in working on kavod, is comprehending one’s own significance.
Kavod comes from the Hebrew root K. V. D. meaning heavy or weighty. We need
to know we are made in the divine image. If we could fully integrate this
truth we would treat ourselves with kavod out of an inborn awareness of our
inherent value. How might your life look different if you had that awareness?
What slights to your dignity get you the most worked up?
Kavod grows from an inner awareness of one’s kedushah/holiness. That is our starting point. We are all holy, divine souls and everything in this world has an element of holiness in it. The prophet Isaiah records the angels calling out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Divine Host, the entire world is filled with God’s Kavod.” Wherever there is true holiness, there is Kavod. Rabbi Wolbe states it this way “Kavod is external behavior mandated by and appropriate to a reality of inner holiness.” If we want to understand Kavod, we need to open our hearts to sense the holiness in ourselves, in others and in the world.
April Middot – Faith/ Trust
The hebrew root for Bitachon means to be at ease, to trust, and to be confident. Just days after the Israelites crossed the Reed Sea, there is an example of what is meant by Bitachon. G-d provides Manna, a form of food, but only allows the people to take exactly what they need and not save any for the next day. If they do, it rots. Also, they needed to work their food by collecting Manna from the field. The story calls on us to apply human effort, while at the same time reaffirming that we are not in control.
The song sung by Moses at the parting of the Reed Sea exemplifies this balance of human will and surrender:
Ozi v’Zimrat Yah Vayahi li lishuah
My Strength (balanced) with the Song of God will be my salvation (Psalm 118:14, Exodus 15:2)
As explained by Rabbi Shefa Gold, “In this practice I find and express my strength, my will, my effort and desire when I chant “Ozi.” When I chant “v’zimrat Yah,” I open and surrender to the God-song and let it be sung through me. Then in the last phrase, “Vayahi li lishuah,” I balance those two aspects of my practice.
To hear the chant, go to this link:
EMUNAH / FAITH and FAITHFULNESS
How great is Your Faithfulness!
From Sharon Salzberg in her book Faith:
Faith is the quality of the heart that impels us to seek what is constant and whole. The sense of connection can be found in vastly different ways: in classically religious pursuits or ones that are completely secular; in music or art, meditation or service to others; with groups in city rooms or in the forest on one’s own.
We need faith because despite our desire for the center of our lives to hold firm, we see that it never does. In life there is always change, and change can be uncomfortable, even terrifying.
To be open to life, we need to first acknowledge what we cannot control. We can then begin to value—and trust in—our own inner strength and wisdom, which can remain unbroken no matter our circumstances. We can develop faith in a bigger picture of life, one that recognizes that whatever we face, we are held in a web of interconnection—we’re not cut off and alone.
Conventional wisdom says the opposite of faith is doubt. But doubt, applied in the right way—as curiosity and a willingness to question—can enrich and enliven our faith. I believe the true opposite of faith is the sundering of connection, the desolate certainty that the cherry trees will never bloom again. It is the experience of utter isolation, or despair.
In contrast, faith helps us approach life with a sense of possibility rather than foreboding or helplessness. It dares us to imagine what we might be capable of. It enables us to reach for what we don’t yet know with a measure of courage. It gives us resilience in times of difficulty, and the ability to respond to challenges without feeling trapped. My own faith has taught me that whatever disappointments I might meet, I can try again, trust again, and love again.
“Faith is not the opposite of doubt but rather the opposite of being absolutely certain.”
Sheila Peltz Weinstein, in Jewish Spiritual Direction.
“Have the faith to walk a spiritual path: to set forth into the unknown, to challenge habit and let go of the convenient and familiar…”
Sharon Salzberg, Faith.
I am just a mess.
It is all hopeless.
What else is new?
I would be sick of me, if I were You, but
Miraculously You are not.
I know I have no control over other people’s
Lives, and I hate this. Yet I believe that if I
Accept this and surrender, You will meet me
Wherever I am.
Wow. Can this be true? If so, how is this
Afternoon – say, two-ish?
Thank You in advance for Your company and
You have never once let me down.
From Anne Lamott
March Middah – Generosity
Cultivating Generous Hearts
Rabbi Yael Levy
The Mystery calls:
Align yourselves with the heavens
And the earth
By cultivating generous hearts
And generous spirits.
Let this practice inspire the work of your hands
When you encourage your hand to open to others, you cultivate the quality of generosity in your heart. That is a good and worthy aim in its own right, but in reality, there are even more benefits of being generous. Jewish thought tells us that our spiritual lives center on relationships — between a person and his or her own soul, with other people, and with God. Being generous builds a strong generosity “muscle” that can handle the load that confronts you in your life, but it also enhances your key relationships, even with yourself. And it does even more — generosity is the process for creating those relationships.
The heart gives freely when it realizes that it is not a separate and isolated entity, but rather belongs to a larger whole. Giving comes easily to such a heart because it experiences no rupture between the one who gives and the one who receives. Therefore, give to whom you would love.
Generosity by its nature draws closer the giver and the receiver, until ultimately there is neither “me” nor “you” but only love.
Rabbi Shefa Gold teaches us about generosity through the story in Exodus where God asks his people to offer gifts from the heart, to create for him a mikdash (a sanctuary, a holy place) that he might dwell in their midst. The people responded so enthusiastically that they had to be told to stop giving. Their desire was great and they responded with overwhelming generosity.
When God said “Let them make for me a mikdash,” He was also inviting His people to create a holy, sacred place within their hearts – a place where God dwells and manifests ahava rabbah (an abundant love) to be channeled through loving-kindness and generosity.
By practicing generosity, we strengthen our connection to ahava rabbah and build our generosity muscles. When our connection is open and God’s great love is flowing freely through us, we are open and receptive to doing God’s work in our world. It brings both joy and fulfillment when we open our heart and hand to others.
Here are two ways for you to focus on ahava rabbah as you build your generosity muscles:
• Focus on performing simple, small acts of kindness and generosity. Ten small acts of generosity throughout the day will exercise your generosity muscles more often than performing a single large act of generosity.
• Identify which of your personal resources you are least likely to share – your time, possessions, money – and then choose to be generous with that specific resource this month.