My expedition, “Be More Awesome,” is an exploration of the Mussar (moral and spiritual self-improvement) movement in Judaism. In previous sessions we had learned about different approaches to mussar, such as “uncluttering the mind” and “storming the soul.” I had learned that my participants (11 total, from America, Israel, Russia, and Brazil) tended towards the secular, which had made the intensely spiritual language of our texts problematic at best. Interestingly enough for all of us, our lesson yesterday was about the “soul.”
They studied some texts in pairs concerning various elements of what’s called the “psycho-spiritual anatomy”—the various objects of our inner life, such as thoughts, emotions, and desires, but also terms like yetzer hatov and yetzer hara (the good and evil impulses), as well as the “higher self” and five different words for soul. They were enjoying the texts just fine, until I challenged them to draw personal pictures/diagrams of their psycho-spiritual anatomy. After some stares and some questions, they set to work.
In the picture below, you’ll see the variety of responses. Some mapped their internal life onto their physical bodies; others attempted organic metaphors; others went for pie charts and flow charts. Some included the word “soul” and others didn’t. As the leader of the expedition, I was really pleased with how seriously they took the assignment.
– Community Educator Matthew L.