A 12-month plan for spiritual growth.
Ever set a goal to improve your life but fail? Well, you’re not alone. Each year, more than a third of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Yet, only 8% are successful. Why?
If the goals are too big or if you have too many of them, they lack achievability. If a goal is too vague and cannot be measured, it lacks accountability.
Some goals are easier to break down into small steps and track, while others can be trickier. Since you chose to read this article, you most likely want to become a better, more spiritual person. How do you accomplish that?
To address this issue I formulated The Chazak Plan: A 12 Month Journey to Spiritual Strength. This plan focuses on one area a month with specific suggestions to do daily or weekly.
The Hebrew word “chazak” means, “be strong.” Each of us was born physically and spiritually weak. As we got older, our bodies strengthened. What about our souls? Are they any more developed than they were when we were kids? This 12-month plan will help you strengthen your soul.
It’s based on the Hebrew months and you can start it at the beginning of any month. Each Hebrew month contains inherent spiritual power. By tapping into this power, with God’s help, you will succeed in achieving your goals.
This year, the beginning of January 2014 coincides with the beginning of the Hebrew month of Shvat.
A 12-Month Plan for Spiritual Growth
Shvat: Elevating the physical
The 15th of the month is Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for trees. An aspect of this holiday is celebrating and elevating the physical. Part of sanctifying the physical is taking care of the body with which God entrusted you. During this month, choose to upgrade either your sleep, exercise or diet habits. Pick one change you will make on a daily or regular basis.
Adar: Enhancing our joy
Our Sages teach us that with the arrival of Adar we increase our joy, culminating in the festival of Purim. Purim commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people during the Persian exile.
Joy is our natural state – just take a look at children. If we are not happy, the question is why?
There can be a number of contributing factors. To begin with, we need to take a close look at our lives. Perhaps we are avoiding dealing with an issue – maybe at work or in our relationships – or that we feel unfulfilled in an area of our lives. Ask yourself, “What’s my biggest stressor? What issue have I been avoiding? Is there a past hurt I need to let go of? In which area of my life do I feel unfulfilled?” Make an action plan, preferably with outside input, to address what comes up.
A major source of unhappiness is a lack of meaning. We all need to feel that we are working toward something of value. This month, set a goal, something significant and worthwhile to strive for (break it down into mini goals), and at least once a week engage in an activity which brings you closer to your goal. According to Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, researcher and author on happiness, “Find a happy person and you will find a project.”
What’s your project? What gives you meaning? How can you do those activities more often?
Nissan: Spiritual spring cleaning
On Passover, we commemorate the Exodus from Egypt. When you prepare for the holiday by removing any leaven from your house, also remove any spiritual pollution. To whatever extent you’re ready, go through your books, magazines, music and videos, and get rid of those which are filled with profanity, lewdness or vulgarity; they downgrade your spirituality.
Iyar: Helping others and not causing them distress
The period known as “The Omer,” occurs during this month. At that time we commemorate thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students who died during a plague. The Talmud teaches that the plague occurred because the students did not treat each other with proper respect. During this month, every day, or at least once a week, make sure to do an act of kindness. In addition, consider if you caused someone distress, by what you said or did. For those you caused pain, commit to apologize to them as soon as possible.
Sivan: Living the Torah’s wisdom
The festival of Shavuot occurs during this month. We celebrate receiving on Mount Sinai the Torah, God’s instruction manual for life. During this month pick one area of Torah observance to strengthen. If possible, speak to your rabbi or spiritual mentor for guidance.
On the 17th of this month we fast to commemorate the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem before the destruction of the First Temple. The Sages teach that a key reason the Messiah has not yet come to rebuild the Temple is because of the sin of hating one’s fellow Jew.
During this month focus on forgiving at least one person (that person might be yourself). To become a more forgiving person try the following two practices. Each day, look for the good in others and in yourself. In addition, realize that we all have difficulties and feel compassion for your own challenges and for those of others.
Av: Hitbodedut: Have a talk with God
On the ninth of this month – Tisha B’Av – we fast to commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples. We remember a time when God “hid His face” from the Jewish people and we felt distant from Him. The topic of this month is reestablishing and deepening our relationship with God through the practice of hitbodedut – talking informally to Him in our native language. Each day, speak to God for at least five minutes, unburdening yourself to Him.
Elul is the time of year to take stock of our lives and prepare for the High Holidays. Most of us have at least one area which we struggle with; perhaps it is being ethical in business, living a moral life, being charitable and kind, or refraining from hurting others. Correcting our key flaw(s) is a main component of our life’s mission and why God put us in this world.
Pick one area on which to focus and break it down into manageable behavioral changes you will make on a daily or weekly basis. If possible, speak to your rabbi or spiritual mentor for guidance. The focus on repentance continues into next month until after Yom Kippur.
Tishrei: Torah study
The festival of Simchat Torah, among other holidays, occurs during this month. On Simchat Torah we celebrate the completion of the yearly cycle of reading the Five Books of Moses and begin a new cycle. Now is the perfect time to join this annual study of the Bible. There is tremendous spiritual power in learning the same Torah portion studied by millions of Jews around the world. Next Simchat Torah, when you finish the Bible, your celebration of the holiday will be even more meaningful. Spend some time each week learning the weekly Torah portion – Aish.com has dozens of essays.
You can also study once a week with a partner. To do so, contact your local synagogue, or go to http://www.partnersintorah.org/, who will pair you with a partner free of charge.
Cheshvan: Enhancing our relationships
Cheshvan is often referred to as Marcheshvan, with the prefix meaning “bitter” in Hebrew. It is called this because there are no holidays during this month.
A key source of bitterness and sweetness in our lives is our relationships. During this month take stock of your relationships: Decide which ones to strengthen, which ones need better boundaries or for you to distance yourself from, and ways to foster new healthy relationships. At least once a week, schedule one-on-one time with someone in your life to nourish that relationship; shut off your cell and give them your undivided attention.
During this month we celebrate the festival of Hanukkah. A key message of the holiday is expressing gratitude to God for the miracles He performs on our behalf.
Each day, spend time feeling grateful for the blessings your Creator gave you. Thank Him for His many gifts, for the silver lining of your difficulties, and for signs of His help amidst your challenges. In addition, when someone does something beneficial for you, make sure to express appreciation for their help.
The topic for this month is faith. To enhance your faith, think of a challenge in your life and say to yourself, “This is from God who loves me. It is for my highest good. Right now, this is the best possible situation for me. A key part of fulfilling my life’s purpose is doing what I can to overcome and grow from this challenge. God is with me, giving me the strength and courage I need to triumph.”
Each month, make one positive change to your life, and watch your life transform.