Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Strange as it seems, focusing on the good in others is against human nature.  We want peace and happiness in our lives. We want to get along with others and in all our inter-personal relationships. However, it so difficult to see the good in others and in situations. Our first reaction is usually a negative one. It instantly becomes about us; how could someone do this to us, why would someone who cares for me treat me this way and so on, as it goes on round and round in our thoughts, turning into a thought-valanche (the one tiny thought that turns into an avalanche of negative thinking). This ends up in distress, anger and resentment which cause us to live with a feeling of unhappiness, anxiety and dissatisfaction (and most probably the cause of all those sleepless nights). But, we know this isn't the way we want it to be. And the good news is... it doesn't have to be. There is a higher ground for us. A place to achieve happiness, a calm and inner peace within ourselves. Specifically, at the time when someone does something that causes us harm, hurt or insults us. This is the time to PAUSE. Immediately, think of the good in that person. Take the opportunity to balance the situation. This is a very important lesson that creates happiness for us and for others. When we deal with our conflicts with a closed heart, we invalidate the other person. We become finished with them and close the door to the relationship. When we open our hearts, we open the doors to a calmer, happier, more peaceful place within ourselves and with the other person. The relationship will thrive. We feel happier, which in turn spreads happiness throughout our day and to all those we come in contact with. This is definitely contagious (just as negativity is contagious). It is guaranteed to have a positive effect on all your relationships. The most important relationship being the one you have with yourself and how you view others.

Mussar is a daily practice using the avoda (homework for the week). This provides the training to a more joyful life. It is a repetitive practice which slowly becomes more natural. It is a training process that must be repeated over and over, since it is not a natural pattern for most of us. We can learn to replace the way we used to react with a new way to react. One that is more constructive and only produces positive results. We are then, emotionally and physically (since negative emotions have a direct effect on our physical state) equipped to deal with life's challenges with a positive perspective. It's a much more beautiful way to live. Why would we want to make the choice to see only negative, to judge others harshly and to live unhappily, when  better way is available to us? Learn mussar, practice it daily. Learn to feel joy and then spread it throughout your life; during the day and even through the night while you sleep. Learn it, practice it and live it. Write down the avoda for the week, bring it into your day, put it in front of you, on your computer, in your car or on a mirror. This is the key that unlocks the door to peace, calm and happiness.  This is what makes mussar come alive in your life.

Our group members are proof. It is an active part of our daily lives. We have discussed many situations in which we could have reacted negatively (as we would have before learning mussar) and now through training ourselves daily to think "mussar", we  now know there is a better way to be.. a better way to feel and certainly.... a better way to live.

A rabbi went to visit Rabbi Salanter as he was leaving to make a delivery. Rabbi Salanter said he had to visit someone who had acted towards him in an improper way. The visiting rabbi said, "why are you making the delivery, why don't you have someone else do it for you? A great rabbi should not be making his own delivery." Rabbi Salanter explained that he must make the delivery himself. He had a gift to deliver to the person who had harmed him. "You are bringing a gift to someone that had harmed you, asked the visiting rabbi. Rabbi Salanter told him the gift was to balance the harm and to keep the person in a positive light. 

The Talmud/Yevamos 78 states there was a terrible draught that lasted three years. Hashem revealed two reasons for the draught. One because King Saul was not given a proper eulogy and the other reason was because King Saul caused a group of converts to lose their livelihood. The Sages derive an awesome concept from this.  At a time when Hashem judges a person for an error, He also remembers -at that very moment- the good deeds and worthy attributes of that person! When someone treats us improperly or talks to us with harsh words, instead of becoming angry, resentful and finished with that person.... take a moment to PAUSE. Take a moment to put the person and the event into proper perspective. Take a moment to balance out the person's good deeds and inner goodness. Take a moment. One little moment that will turn many hours of your day into a happier, more joyful experience. One moment to PAUSE and look for the good equals many hours of happiness.

Think of a person (someone you love) and try to find 3 good points each day about them. It can be the same good points or different ones. This is training for us, so that we can improve the way we see others. This will improve the way we see all situations and make us happier people (AND this will also have a positive effect and bring out the best in others). Sounds challenging, it is! Try to remember that there is always something good in someone. The husband who bothers you because of his over-the-top orderly behavior may also be a good provider to your family because of his orderly behavior. The creative child who is completely disorganized and messy, may be the creative one who writes the most beautiful poetry and sees the world through a different lens. To experience pure happiness is to see the world through a more positive vision. One that stems from goodness and holiness. The way Hashem judges us. Let us emulate Hashem and judge others on their inner goodness and holiness.... the way we also want to be judged.

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