I’ve had the good fortune to learn Mesillas Yesharim in depth with a chavrusa for close to twenty years. During that time, I found it helpful to summarize the important ideas in the sefer to make it easier to review the principles on a regular basis, as the Ramchal recommends. I highly recommend that you sign up for Hachzek (https://hachzek.com/), an organization that has recently started a Daily Mussar Impact program with a daily learning of the Mesillas Yesharim.
This year I was able to distill the Mesillas Yesharim to four foundational practices which have helped me internalize and actively use the main ideas of the sefer. Since Rosh HaShanah is a great time to work on developing our souls, this quick summary of the four foundational practices of the Ramchal might be helpful.
The first practice is to direct your thinking to the two main spiritual goals of developing a deeper relationship with G-d and with people. Thinking about these goals and whether your daily actions are in line with them will make your day-to-day living more meaningful. If we don’t regularly think about these goals, then the distractions of daily living will prevent us from making any real spiritual progress.
The second practice is to generate the positive emotions of love of G-d and love of people. We generate love by identifying and focusing on the positive traits of G-d and the people in our lives. Since happiness results from feeling connected, the more we love, the happier we will be. If we don’t actively fill our emotional needs with love-based happiness, then we’ll probably fill them with alternatives like news, politics, sports, entertainment and technology.
The third practice is to elevate your everyday actions by doing them with thought and positive emotions. This adds a spiritual dimension to our actions which increases our pleasure from life. If we don’t proactively elevate our actions with thought and emotion, then we’ll often be reacting to physical pleasures that appeal to our desires.
The fourth practice is to serve G-d by learning and observing His teachings and to serve people by identifying and addressing their needs. Serving G-d and serving people is the cornerstone of living with spiritual purpose. If we don’t focus on serving others, then we’ll continue with our inborn self-centered perspective which is the primary obstacle to a flourishing spiritual life.
The four practices map to Mesillas Yesharim as follows: directing our thinking (zehirus/watchfulness), generating positive emotions (zerizus/zealousness), elevating our actions (nekiyas/cleanliness) and serving Hashem and others (chassidus/saintliness). These practices help us overcome the spiritual impediments of distraction, boredom, desire and self-centeredness. The result is a fulfilling spiritual life filled with meaning, happiness, pleasure and purpose.
May our commitment to developing our souls earn us the merit to be inscribed in the “Book of Life” this Rosh HaShanah.