Getting Started with Mussar

After listening to my conversation with Greg Marcus on Mussar, you might be curious about giving it a try. Mussar is an excellent and effective technique for improving your ethical and moral values through the development of soul traits. It is easy to get started.

The simplest way to begin a Mussar practice is to incorporate its basic techniques into your daily ritual or devotional practice. Mussar requires a brief period of reflection in the morning and evening, along with some reading and journaling. Here’s how we get started.

Making a Plan

Mussar practice works with one virtue or “soul trait” every week. You cycle through your chosen list of thirteen virtues on repeat, completing four cycles per year. Many Mussar practices involve methods for selecting a list of thirteen virtues, but since we’re keeping this easy, we will use the list that Benjamin Franklin used in his autobiography.

1. TemperanceEat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2. Silence.Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3. Order.Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4. Resolution.Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5. Frugality.Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i. e., waste nothing.
6. Industry.Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. Sincerity.Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. Justice.Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9. Moderation.Avoid extreams; avoid resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. Cleanliness.Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
11. Tranquillity.Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. Chastity.Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
13. Humility.Imitate wise teachers such as Jesus and Socrates.

Franklin’s views might be outdated, or they might not match up with your own spiritual aspirations. You should adapt these virtues and sayings as you see fit. If you need inspiration on how to adapt these virtues to modern life, The Art of Manliness has a series of articles discussing each.

In the Morning

In the morning, you should read the brief statement for this week’s virtue out loud several times. Try to memorize the phrase and repeat it to yourself throughout the day. It can help to do research on the virtue as you’re working on it, and to build up a collection of readings and thoughts from philosophers and Mussar practitioners about each.

Contemplate the virtue during your morning meditation. Remember that many virtues are abstract, beyond straightforward definition, and allow yourself to be surprised by nuances and meanings you discover. Record these thoughts.

In the Evening

Before bed, look back on your day and think about times you were successful in practicing this week’s virtue, or faltered in your practice. Record these briefly. This simple act of mindfulness will, over time, result in an increase of both your awareness of virtue and the integration of the virtues into your life.

Going Further

For more on Mussar practice, I recommend reading the following books. They are straightforward and easy to tackle and will get you going on the next steps in increasing your virtue.

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