In addition to having proper beliefs, performing our obligations and refraining from sins, we need to look into the qualities of our heart or spirit and find out what good qualities we lack so that we achieve them and what bad qualities we have so that we can remove them.
This is what we normally learn in the science of Akhlaq (morality) and is much more difficult than having proper beliefs or proper practice. We often have bad habits which are difficult to change or even to notice, because they have almost become part of us. In this situation we need to struggle and we need cure.
For example a person may be fearful. As soon as it gets dark, they become frightened. Sometimes the person may be very determined to overcome this fear but it is still very difficult and needs some kind of treatment. Somehow it is like a cancer which needs difficult therapy. Firstly we must identify our bad habits and then we should try to promise ourselves that we will not do anything according to that habit because if we act according to a bad habit it becomes stronger and stronger.
For example we may have a bad habit which we cannot remove immediately, but if we do not actually act according to that habit then gradually it becomes weaker and weaker. There are also specific solutions for particular bad habits depending on what kind of habits they are. So the general advice and solution is not to act according to a bad habit but also to apply specific solutions for the bad habits or qualities. For example if someone wants to stop smoking there are certain techniques to help break this habit which would not work for another habit.
Sometimes after decades you can become sure that you are good, and then you realise that you are bad. An example is someone who was always attending in the first row in the jamaat prayer, and after many years he realised it was not for the sake of Allah, since once when he came late and had to pray in the last row, he felt ashamed that people would think that he was not in the first row. He realised that it was for the praise of others that he was always early and in the first row.
On the contrary, one may refer to an incident about Ayatollah Shaykh Mohammed Husayn Isfahani Qarawi, the teacher of the late Ayatollah Khu’i. Once some people on a street in Najaf, saw that he was smiling and happy and someone asked him why he was happy. The Ayatollah replied that his bag of vegetables had fallen down, and when he started collecting them he was not concerned that people were looking at him.
This made him happy, because he remembered another incident that had taken place in the early years of his study at the Hawza. At that time he had an expensive tasbih as he was rich, and when it broke, he did not collect the beads since didn’t want people to look at him. Now he felt content, that even though he was a great scholar, he did not feel bad that people were looking at him while he was picking up vegetables. At that point, he felt that there was no sense of pride in him.
In works such as Mi’raj al-Sa‘adah and Jami’ al-Sa‘adah we learn different faculties of our soul and the corresponding virtues and vices of each. We also learn the methods for obtaining the virtues and removing the vices.