Middah of the Month 1: HITLAMDUT/Learning about Yourself
Musar practice seeks to help us to develop self-awareness about feelings and thoughts that arise in us “out of nowhere.” That is, we feel excited, for example, or offended, or angry, or insecure. Often enough, we leave these feelings unexamined and behave in ways that are guided by them without even knowing it. Before we can cultivate character virtues, we need to be better able to monitor what feelings are arising. Only then can we respond wisely.
On a particular day, I dismiss my co-worker impatiently, for example. I don’t usually do that. What is going on that led me to be short with him? If I can answer that question, I have a better chance of applying a Middah to the situation.
In the practice of Hitlamdut (Learning about Yourself), you choose a short daily and routine event in your life (5-10 minutes) and remain attentive to what is going on inside of you for that short period of time. At least initially, do not choose an activity or interaction that is emotionally loaded. This practice is not about content or meaning. It is about developing your self-awareness skills.
Middah of the Month 2: The Behirah/Choice Point
We believe that we are free to make choices at every moment. In fact, at most points, we are less than completely free. We are creatures of habit. It is not so easy to abstain from eating something we have resolved not to eat, for example; not so easy to avoid falling into a well-engrained interaction with a family member or friend. Often enough, we don’t even notice what we have eaten or said until afterwards.
The behirah or choice point is the moment of greater freedom. The choice is not to buy the package of cookies; once it is in the house, it is much more difficult not to eat it. The choice is to determine what we need to modify before we are enmeshed in an oft-repeated negative interaction. Once we determine which of our behaviors we would like to modify, we can reflect what the behirah or choice point is in each instance and can work to free ourselves from our habitual behavior. In this way, we can increase the holiness in our lives and the lives of those with whom we interact.
This month’s practice is to choose a particular habitual behavior that we would like to modify. Then, try to discover where the choice point is. That is, at what point before we behave in this habitual way do we need to change something, so that we won’t act in that habitual way? When you think you’ve discovered the choice point, change what ought to be changed at that moment. Over the length of the month, it should get easier and easier to do this.