Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I facilitated our Mussar group

Never Done: I facilitated our Mussar group

When we formed, we decided that Alissa would start out leading it, because she's a bona fide rabbi, and she had more Mussar experience than any of us in the group. But we also said from the start that we would eventually move to a model of shared facilitation. Which we finally did, just a few weeks ago.

I noticed that I hesitated to volunteer to facilitate for the first couple of weeks, and was relieved to let other people do it. I wasn't sure why, exactly -- since I have facilitated hundreds (if not thousands) of meetings in my life. Also, we have a fairly set structure to our group, so it's not like I would be pushed to come up with innovative new ways to explore Mussar. I think it's indicative of a way that I've pulled back my public performative persona since coming to NYC. I haven't performed since living here, and I don't do trainings any more, which is also quite performative. It's not that I'm afraid -- I think if I had a show to do tomorrow, I would jump right in with probably greater confidence than I had ten years ago. I think it's more that I've come to prefer to think more and talk less, and that's led me off the stage and into the wings.

Which I think has been a good thing for me. Instead of throwing myself into situations where I have to sink or swim, I've had a lot more time to reflect and choose (which I've had less life practice at than sinking or swimming.) Still, if I'm honest, when I noticed that I had any hesitation to step up and do something as simple as facilitate our Mussar group, I was a little concerned that the pendulum might have swung too far in the other direction.

I don't think there's anything to be concerned about. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of preparing, choosing a text on this coming week's mide (middah): Frugality: Be careful with your money, and leading the group. Again, this is a simple group to lead -- we check in about our practice (did you journal? did you check in with your partner? did you practice your daily ritual?) and then we spend the bulk of our time checking in about anything that came up for us during our week of practice -- anything we'd like the group's help with. (Last week's practice was on Righteousness: What is hateful to you, do not to do others.) Then we do a text study to help prepare us for the coming week, and then we close.

In case you would like to practice frugality with us this week, here are some things to think about. "Be careful with your money" doesn't necessarily mean "spend less." I might suggest changing the word "careful" to "thoughtful" -- and spending some time considering your own relationship to money, and what would be meaningful to you. Were you raised to soothe feelings by buying things? Then maybe you should spend a week facing your feelings in a different way. Were you raised without enough money for the basic necessities? Then maybe your path is to be thoughtful about the ways you could use money for sheer enjoyment of life. Do you have a hard time saving? Try writing down everything you spend money on this week, so you can have an honest accounting of how much you spend and on what. Actually -- that's a good practice for anyone. Do you have a plan for your long-term financial well-being? Do you give money to causes you care about? Do you tip well? If you employ people -- in or out of the home -- do you pay them fairly? Are you paid fairly for your work? Do you harbor any shame or other feelings about your class background that prevents you from speaking honestly about your life? This is such a rich topic, with plenty to reflect upon.

Finally, think about developing a practice around money that you can take with you all day, every day. Maybe you want to give money to people every time you are asked. Maybe you want to write down everything you spend. Maybe you want to stop using credit cards and only use cash. Maybe you want to offer to pay for your friends all week long. Maybe you want to ask for a raise if you need one. Maybe you want to always be honest when asked how much you earn. And then -- as always -- reflect, reflect, reflect. How does this feel? When do you fail to keep up your practice? What's going on for you in those instances?

If you feel comfortable doing this, please write your practice in the comments here -- and we can all support each other to become more thoughtful about money. Mine is dual: I am going to give a gift every day, and I am going to look for new work every day until I get enough to meet my NYC expenses without dipping into savings.

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