In this month of Cheshvan, we practice cultivating anavah–humility. A Jewish perspective* helps us recognize that true humility lies in the sweet spot on the continuum between self-deprecation on the one hand and arrogance on the other.
Literally and metaphorically, you can think of that sweet spot as the point where you take up the appropriate amount of space (note that “space” can be physical, verbal, emotional, financial….). All middot— “soul traits”– exist along a continuum. In that sweet spot, you embody a healthy amount of self-esteem tempered with consciousness of others.
How much space is “appropriate”? Only you know “how much space” feels most aligned with your true soul in any given situation. Often times it is unclear in the moment–a moment, for example, when you feel slighted by another, unfamiliar with a group of people or challenged by a monumental task.
In those moments, do you shrivel up with hurt and make yourself small, hide below the radar in the group/meeting/classroom, or procrastinate in despair from the task? Alternatively, do you attack in a loud burst of rage, assert your presence through heavy participation or exert such arrogance that you are unable to see what needs improvement?
Mindfulness, a key element of the Tikkun Middot Project, helps us become aware of where we are on the continuum of humility, to face it with curiosity and kindness. It helps us notice those behira points, when we can choose to move toward taking less or more space, as needed.
Mindfulness enables us to connect heart, body, mind and spirit. In doing so, we are able to listen deeply within to the calling that knows just how much space feels most aligned with our true soul. When it feels “right” we often experience feelings such as courage, creativity (inspiration) and connection.
* Studying passages referencing humility in Jewish sources, such as a reference in Numbers 12:3 about Moses being the most humble person on earth, in the context of others speaking “against him.” We consider possible interpretations of Abraham’s response to G-d in Genesis 22:1: “Hineini/here I am” (I am present, I hear your call, I have enough self esteem, faith, conviction that I can step up for this task, be present for another’s needs.)
Adults: As you go about your day, notice where you are on the spectrum of Anavah (humility, space) in each situation. Practice trying out other points on the spectrum and notice how that feels. For example, if you often are the first to speak in meetings or groups, practice waiting until everyone else has a turn.
Carry two notes in your pocket: On one, write, “I am dust and ashes”; on the other, “the world was created for me.”
Bring some friends or family members together with instruments. Everyone plays as loudly as possible. What’s that sound like? Then everyone plays a song trying to listen to each other and allow room to hear all the instruments. Which is better? Why? How do you feel when you get to play? How do you feel when you stop and let others play?
As an experiment, spend some time with your best friend only talking about yourself. How do you feel when you are doing that? Then spend some time letting your friend do all the talking, and you ask all the questions. How do you feel when you are doing that? And finally, have a conversation where you both talk. How do you feel when you are doing that? Which felt the best?
The above was written by congregant Ellyn Bank as a synthesis of a discussion of our Tikkun Middot pilot group and materials developed and prepared by Rabbi David Jaffe
(the parent-child practices were developed by Miki Young) with the support of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.