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Humility

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"…Blessed are the meek …"

Full of myself, I leave no room for God. Worse still, as long as I harbor even a shred of egoism, my will remains tainted and largely unavailable to the Divine. I put my pseudo-self in the place that rightfully belongs to God, ascribing everything to myself. This basic truth places humility at the essential center of the spiritual path.

But because we fill our sacred emptiness with self-centeredness, egoism, and even arrogance, we cannot work directly to develop a humble heart. Egoism, however much it pretends to don the mantle of spirituality and disappear, remains in the shadows, unwilling to relinquish its control of the actors on our stage, unwilling to depart, always ready to be the agent who we incorrectly believe ourselves to be. So instead we work indirectly toward humility, toward clearly seeing our inner and outer manifestations as they are, against the objective measure of a pure heart. This is the approach from below.

To approach humility from above, we pray and we feel our utter dependence on other people and on God. Try this little exercise. Look around yourself. How much of all these things you see could you make on your own? Your clothes, your food, the furniture! Perhaps none of it. Even on this material level, we completely depend on other people. Spiritually, our situation is still more dramatic. Even a fleeting hint of a taste of the reality of the Divine fills us with awe and humbles us before the Unfathomable. Our entire hope and all our possibilities come from the fact that every effort we make is more than matched by grace. Indeed, the Prophet Mohammed tells us that for each step we take toward God, God takes ten steps toward us.

I learned about humility from my uncle, who repaired shoes for a living. A simple man of kindness, he lived happy and content with his place in life. With unwavering devotion to family and a great capacity for friendship, he inevitably greeted everyone with a warm and genuine smile.

The humble, unassuming person immediately puts us at ease. We can just relax and be ourselves in their presence, a zone of no competition, no judgment, and no fear. The heart of the humble knows love. Humility realizes we are all in the same boat, all human, all equally children of the same God. Humility gladly honors others and, except for reasons of conscience, readily and without rancor gives way.

Yet humility should not be confused with weakness or passivity, with a bowed-head timidity or inactivity, or with a lack of confidence. Rather humility arises out of acceptance, out of understanding our true position in the world, as a part of humanity, and a part of life. Humility engenders confidence by knowing we bear a Divine spark, which is the unique individuality given to each of us, but which remains inseparable from the greater Whole. Our destiny can be found in being fully ourselves, while fully a part of the Whole. Only in humility can we find our way toward that Wholeness.

But what does humility mean in practice? We live in our conditioned part, our knowledge and experience, desires and tendencies, habits, style, and patterns. We can refer to the whole of this as our personality, the mask that hides our authentic self, the instrument we acquire and use to make our way in the world. Our personality can change, but not transform. We can graft onto our personality a pseudo-humility from the outside. Thereby, we may act in a humble, self-deprecating manner. But that has nothing to do with true humility, which emanates from our core emptiness.

Spiritual transformation lies deeper than personality; it concerns the user, the one in us who drives our personality. As long as our personality serves our self-centered ego, we prevent the sacred from entering our core. The practice of humility then is not to change our personality, but to open the agency behind it to our Divine Source. From that we can truly stop placing ourselves above others, stop claiming our little corner of the universe for our illusory ego, set aside our adolescent hold on separateness, on me-firstness.

What occupies my core? Who is the agent of my actions, the center of my personality? Is it me, my ego, as separate from others? Certainly that is the ordinary way of life, our basic assumption about ourselves, and how we have learned to view ourselves and the world. But can I open my center to my inherent emptiness, to the creative emptiness that makes room for the higher to enter me? Can I see the falsity of placing everything in relation to my supposed self, my ego, which in truth does not exist? Can I enter the essential action of true prayer, of giving my innermost place, my very will, over to the Sacred Source? In that way, true humility grows.

If we really wish to be able to love, then we must empty our heart in humility.


Books


The Radiant Mountain: Presence to Go Becoming You: Cultivating Spiritual Practice The Sacred Art of Soul Making: Balance and Depth in Spiritual Practice
Novel: Restoring Our Soul
Novel: Agents of Peace
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