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Focus of the Month - Humility: The Great Leveler


"The true value of being a human being is determined by the measure and sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self." "A human being is part of a whole, called by us a universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest; a kind of optical delusion of consciousness." - Albert Einstein

One moment you are snug and secure in your world; you know your place in the world and it feels solid. Moments later your reality as you knew it can (and will) change and there you are face to face with cold uncertainty. It can be rough awakening to get the cold water thrown in your face when the reality of illness, death, loss or heartbreak shows up. And show up it will.

Like all of you, I have had many "No, this can't be happening" moments and they have been tough to reconcile. But here is something that I have come to firmly believe in, and value, in the midst of life's grittier moments. Humility. Humility is the state of being that breaks us of our wished for special or immune status, levels the playing field and our place in it.

Humility is defined as a "quality of being humble and/or modest". Humility disrobes us of any illusions we have about being apart from others and places us squarely into the beautiful, vulnerable and delicate fabric of nature. Humility is what settles into our hearts when we accept, on a profound level, that we are a passing form that (try as we may to not) will fall sick, age, sometimes not succeed and ultimately succumb to what all of nature succumbs to: impermanence, change and dissolution.

Now, my friends, this essay is not meant to be a downer. In fact, it is quite the opposite because in deeply accepting our place in the natural world we loosen the tethers that tie us to the wrongful illusion that we are different than anything or anybody else. In fact, there is a lightheartedness and joy that is birthed from the very difficult process of wrestling with the natural world. And, when humility is given a prime seat at the table the feast tastes sweeter and the diners celebrate with a robust love for life.

Yoga practice continually points us in the direction of humility. We bow our heads noting that our head (mind, ideas and ego) surrender to something bigger- the cosmic wheel of life. Difficult asana sequences force us to pay attention and listen to our weak knees, aching wrists and less than Olympian upper arm strength. And that is the whole point. The point is not to perform a perfect handstand but to be fully engaged in the moment and, handstand or not, breathe into this moment, and this one, and this one so the moment can shape us.

Meditation is another ally in this process of deepening humility. The kind of compassionate witnessing we practice in meditation shows us how so much of our suffering is connected to our over-identification with our inflated "I, me, mine" narratives. As we observe the workings of our minds, our emotions and our pursuant behaviors, we loosen the grip of our over-identifications and the world opens up. Too much feeding the personality self and we run the risk of starving the heart and occluding our clearer perceptions.

Self and ego are by no means a negative thing. They are as necessary as our brain, our lungs and our ability to outsmart a predator. However, being able to see the inflated "I, Me, Mine" when it is activated will slowly but surely usher us towards deeper humility, humor and light-heartedness. The "optical delusion" that Einstein refers to in the above quote just might be synonymous with the "No Self" referred in Buddhist psychology. I wish the guy were still around so I could ask him but he too has dissolved and transfigured into...something. Nisargadatta Maharaj pointed towards profound humility when he stated:

"Wisdom is knowing I am nothing, love is knowing I am everything, and between the two my life moves."

It seems that we are particle and wave, form and formless, discrete and continuous and embodied spirit all moving about in a vast field of consciousness. Humbling indeed!

Donna Sherman
September 2010

If you feel inclined to explore Mindfulness Meditation practice and deepen your ability to allow the world to tickle your heart, please join us here at The Living Seed for an Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation. We will meet on four consecutive Thursdays.

Pre-registration necessary, call 255-8212

More Essays by Donna Sherman

Aparigraha
Mindfulness
Satya - Truthfulness