It was over a year ago that I listened to the podcast and started thinking about humility.
Greg Marcus (PhD) was being interviewed on one of my favourites, the One You Feed. Marcus had recently released his newest book called “The Spiritual Practice of Good Actions” and I listened intently as he took the listener through the motivation for the book and the key tenets of the practice he outlines.
I was interested enough to go online after the podcast and buy the book – even though we all know I had too many books already.
I only recently started to read the book (yes it’s been lined up behind several others for over a year – but I’ve gotten to it now and I think I’ll enjoy it).
What this all about?
Well it’s about finding balance through the Soul Traits of Mussar. Mussar is a thousand years old Jewish practice of spiritual growth based on mindful living.
Who knew? I’m not Jewish and I hadn’t heard of it up until this point.
The book presents 13 ‘Soul Traits’ ranging from the first one, Humility, to Honour, Trust and Gratitude to name a few, and provides guidance to help you explore each of the soul traits to better understand yourself. One at a time with small, incremental changes.
Ok…I’m up for this. Where do I start?
Well I start, according to the book, with undertaking a quick self assessment of where I am with each Soul Trait. This was an opportunity for me to ‘meet my soul’ through a Soul Trait Evaluation. I basically rank myself from 1-10 on how much of each trait I think I exhibit. 1 being the least, 10 being the most. My first cut looked like this:
The author assures me that my first attempt at this won’t be accurate – because ultimately we are all biased when we look at ourselves. For example, for the soul trait of Fear I ranked myself at 9. If I ask those closest to me where they would rank me, it will likely be a lower score (less fear than I think I have). It might be the reverse for other traits. I am assured however that this first cut isn’t about getting it ‘right’ and that after each week of practicing a particular soul trait, I get the chance to go back and re-rank that trait.
Phew. 10’s here I come!
So what’s the ideal evaluation look like you might ask?
The right answer is balance. According to Mussar, the optimum score on each trait is 5.5 – claiming that Divinity is here – right on the 5.5 mark (the dotted line on my self assessment picture).
The point Marcus is making is that having too much of any soul trait is just as bad as having too little.
Now at first I was challenged by this – like for example, how can you have too much gratitude, or too little humility or too much patience or loving-kindness? However as I read on and gave more thought to this, it became more clear why 5.5 might be the magic number.
For example, with this trait of Humility, I’m into week 1 and the mantra for this trait is:
“Not more than my space, no less than my place”
In addition, the author defines Humility as ‘knowing your proper place in the world and acting accordingly’.
So the goal is not to be as humble as possible – even though we might admire people who we consider to be humble. The goal is to not be too self-important, and at the same time, not to sell ourselves short.
When I give myself permission to really think about this statement, I wonder how I’m going with humility. What is my space?
Occupy a rightful space, neither too much or too little.
So what’s my rightful space and is it different in different circumstances. Probably. Yes definitely.
I don’t want to be arrogant and I also don’t want to be self-effacing.
I want that 5.5 in the middle.
How do I know if I’m there – and if I’m not, how do I get there?
Through actions say Marcus.
The book guides me to look at Humility as a continuum. Arrogance at the 10 end and self-debasing at the 1 end. When I observe myself on this continuum over the coming two weeks, where do I see myself in different situations?
Marcus also gives us some choice points to consider like:
– Where do we sit or stand, in the front or back?
– Do we feel inferior or superior to the people around us?
– How often do we make it about us, through our thoughts, feelings and/or actions?
– Do we wish we’d said something instead of staying silent?
So Mussar is a practice and I much prefer something I can practice, and actually partake in, than something that is entirely theoretical. So I’ve committed to 26 weeks – 2 weeks for each soul trait – as recommended in the book. The practice involves meditation, mindful action and journaling on a daily basis.
So there it is! My challenge for the next 26 weeks is to learn more about myself, and hopefully get myself closer to Divinity (according to Mussar and Marcus) by getting closer to 5.5’s on the 13 soul traits.
I’ll settle for a greater understanding of myself and if the Divinity comes, all the better!
Marcus asserts that small gradual changes in our everyday life can make lasting changes to our inner world. What have I got to lose?
Have you thought about where you are on the Humility spectrum – between arrogance and self-debasement? Are you taking up your space, not more and no less?
You can take the Soul Traits self-assessment quiz for yourself here.
I’ll check in over the coming 26 weeks and keep you posted on how I’m finding it, but for these next two weeks, I’ll be focused on Humility and trying to work out what my space is, and what my place is, and if I’m taking it up. If you do take up this Mussar challenge – let me know, I’d love to know how you find it.
“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi.
PS. In case you were wondering, I have no affiliation with this book, the author or the podcast mentioned, aside from being a reader and listener of such – I have simply found it interesting and useful and wanted to share.