Catching Up on Mussar

Catching Up on Mussar

So in between everything that’s been going on, I have had the distinct privilege of beginning my Mussar journey. Simply put, Mussar is a 1,000 year old, Jewish, Post-Modern Social Work Practice (though I’m sure the sages and Rabbis that developed it didn’t necessarily put it into those words)…though as I have dived into the texts and the readings, I have sat in shock as I have read paragraph after paragraph that have been almost word for word what I have read in my Solutions Focused Brief Therapy and Motivational Interviewing training.

Mussar is also a miracle, because it (and its writings) managed to survive the Holocaust…and so for this we give thanks.

Part of Mussar is daily journaling (which I have been behind on) and part of my goal for this site has also been daily journaling; and since I find it much easier to sit down with my computer or cell phone, than I do with pen or paper these days, I am going to catch up on some of the prompts that our Va’ad leaders have sent us, and then endeavor to continue forward with daily Mussar reflections (at a minimum, my hope is to – of course – include my Social Work observations, Instagram posts, etc.).

That said, my responses to our daily prompts:


How did you step outside of your comfort zone today and occupy a different amount of space?

I made a few decisions that I had been waffling on, where I had been questioning (without yet having the mussar vocabulary) my space.

I had been holding back sharing some important information and achievements, fearing that it would make me appear arrogant, or that it would be inappropriate to share…fearing that it would exceed the boundaries of my space.

When I made the decision to share them, however, I was glad to find that I didn’t cross any boundaries, rather I was able to spread out my arms and legs, and stretch a bit, and occupy space that was in fact rightfully mine to occupy, and the news was received warmly and with pride by those with whom I shared it.

In this case, in this specific situation, I was a bit too far left on the scale, and in fact, I needed to move a bit farther right, and take up what was my rightful space to occupy.

How will you aim to maximize your humility practice this week?

I have been repeating the mantra “no more than my space, no less than my place” througout the day to remind me to be more aware whenever I am in a social situation. It is very similar – for me – to Stephen Covey’s 5th Habit: “seek first to understand, then to be understood,” which is something I had been working on as an area of personal growth in Field Placement this year, to better develop my clinical practice.

Have you noticed a difference in yourself through your humility practice?

I have definitely been more cognizant of when I take a step back, or when I take a step forward. I have asked myself before sharing anything in a group situation “is this necessary to contribute? Am I contributing it for my ego? Am I contributing it because it’s vital or relevant? Why do I want to share this information? What are my motivations? Do my motivations for speaking or for taking up space align with my thoughts/feelings/beliefs? Do they align with my Jewish values?” This, of course, makes me much more of an active listener, and – I believe – far more present in whatever setting I’m in.

My goal moving forward is to of course bring this practice to one-on-one conversations as well.

What are your thoughts on this quote?
“Humility is the proper estimate of oneself” – Charles Spurgeon

I’m not sure.

How does your concept of Shabbat impact your practice of humility?

Shabbat, for me, is about stepping back entirely into my own internal space: there is no amount of space that is inappropriate to occupy, since I occupy that space within my whole self and my whole being in home, and within my mind (meditation, study), and within my body (yoga, relaxation).

While this may create a vacuum of space in the community because I separate myself from them, and create an absence of presence with the choice of a solitary Shabbat, this self-care is very necessary, and is in fact vital for my continued ability to work and function.

Do you think the amount of space you occupy is the same in your professional life as it is in your personal life?

No. However, I think that the amount of space I occupy changes and fluxes constantly, depending where I am and what my role is at any given time, regardless of whether it is in a professional or personal space…and in fact, it can even change minute-by-minte, or hour-by-hour even within these spaces.

Am I consulting? Am I consulting, but receiving client feedback? Am I presenting? Am I teaching? Am I part of a team? Am I officiating at a wedding? Am I working a case as a case manager? Am I working in a clinical role as part of the Field Placement process? Am I a student? Am I at a family picnic? A funeral? Am I officiating at the funeral (which has also been known to happen)? Are we having a game night? Are we all just enjoying each other’s company while reading or playing video games silently? Are we eating pizza (in which case I’d argue I am far less humble, and far more likely to grab that extra slice…maybe a soul trait to work on…)?

I think that every single situation has to be evaluated on its own merits, in its own time, then and there, because our roles are never so clear cut that we can think this far ahead without being mindful and in the situation as it exists.

הכרת הטוב
Recognizing the Good / Gratitude

Pay attention to the reaction when you thank someone.

Done & Done.

When is it difficult for you to feel gratitude? How can you dig deeper to find something to be grateful for at that time?

This week I had a real Mussar moment. I had the UB Student Remembrance Ceremony on Friday, May 12, 2017 in the morning. Sadly, the day before, a student in the School of Social Work was killed in a horrible accident, so the School of Social Work was coming together to offer support for one another later that same day.

I walked into our gathering tired, and emotionally drained from the UB Student Remembrance Ceremony earlier that day. However, I challenged myself, while sitting in a circle with my professors and with my peers: HaKarat HaTov…recognize the good…what good could possibly come from this situation? Where can we find good in the horrific death of one of our most talented student colleagues?

Well, I was able to recognize how hard our program director was working to send the students body home to the family, and how our school was coming together not as strangers, but as a family. I was able to recognize how much we truly cared for one another, and how validating it was that I chose a program where this kind of behavior reflected our core values. I was able to recognize how much this student inspired others, and how moved others were to change their lives because of her. I was also able to recognize how honest and human the faculty were in their expression of emotions, and of grief, and how much this meant to all of us because there is no one way to express grief…and I was amazed that in this tragedy, how much good I was able to recognize.

Is it easier for you to give or receive gratitude? How do you feel when someone thanks you?

I am actually generally dismissive when I receive gratitude…I try to get it over with as quickly as possible, because it makes me uncomfortable…it doesn’t mean that I don’t want people to show that they’re thankful (very similar to the story of the young man who came back to the Yeshiva during last weeks readings; the Rabbi wanted him to show that he was thankful, but not to say it)…I just don’t really need them to tell me that they’re grateful in so many words.

I find that I can very easily and genuinely express gratitude…so for me it is much easier to give gratitude to others than it is to receive it.

…and with all of that said, it is now 3am, and my cat is meowing at me to come to bed, and I have one more email to send before I can do that, so I’m going to get that done, and then spend the remainder of Jacob’s time with my cat, Akiva.

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