December, 15 2022
I write this as an offering to anyone wanting to explore a subject that, for a lot of us, is the foundational principle that all others may grow out of. As a man in recovery, I continue as best I can to seek acceptance around parts of myself that, at one time, had the capacity to make me physically and mentally ill; those old remnants of pride and ego that on occasion still nag at me like a past injury that did it's best to heal but still requires constant adjustment and mindful movement to reduce the chances of a total flare up. Today, I'm afforded a daily reprieve and can say that I do experience real humility. I also have much room for growth. Recently I was a guest on a podcast called TK's Brigade. During the interview I enjoyed myself and felt unusually free to just be me. As the discussions progressed, we'd dig, however lightly, into existential topics. I observed myself speaking openly and honestly about still experiencing a sense of jealous envy regarding an area of life -- an area where I've experienced perhaps the greatest degree of pride in all its superiority and inferiority complexes. In this case I've been able to avoid taking myself to the cross over it like I once would've. I've simply noticed it for what it is; I'm a work in progress. However, it's had me thinking a lot these last few weeks about my relationship with humility. What is the nature of humility?
a modest or low view of one's own importance; humbleness. "he needs the humility to accept that their way may be better"
This is the definition of humility if you google the word. By my understanding of humility, it's basically accurate. In recovery we call it being "right sized." I'm no better or worse than you. My needs are no more or less important than yours. I don't know it all. When I'm acting in humility everyone and everything becomes my teacher. When I'm acting from a place of pride I find myself becoming spiritually sick -- disconnected -- basically, life will show me the door to self destruction anytime I decide to try playing G-d. I still trip myself up on occasion over this painfully simple concept -- even in recovery. My emotional lapses these days are less extreme and less frequent, but they remind me that I am not cured from bondage. So, am I supposed to feel like a POS and less-than to demonstrate humility? Far from it. It can be easy to mis-interpret humility -- maybe giving some examples of what humility is and isn't is a good place to start based on it's opposite; pride.
Rejects self. Compares itself to others. (shame)
Is loud. Boastful. Seeks attention and credit.
Is a choice
Is right sized
Is superior/inferior to others
Stands up for ones self
Says "I'm a doormat" or is abusive
Is an attitude
Is an emotion
Has nothing to lose
Always has something to prove and lose
Needs to be right
Helps where it can help. Is sensitive to the needs of others. Has a servant's attitude.
Serves others only when it brings attention to themselves.
How do I know that I experience true humility and not just a state of being that I've conditioned myself to display when life - outside of it's not-so-unique stresses - is essentially working in favor of my wellbeing? I think there's a few practical approaches to gauge the authenticity of our experience. Lists like the one above are good tools for self checkins. I look at this topic not as an estimation of self-esteem and sense of worthiness or unworthiness -- for many of us those subjects are for the birds -- they don't hold enough weight and suggest that we must "feel good" before offering anything of substance to humanity. What I'm talking about goes deeper. I'm talking about acting our way into correct thinking rather than the other way around -- not a new concept. More specifically I'm thinking of how we relate and practice 3 interconnected dimensions: Suffering, Service, and Sacrifice.
Suffering & Love
"Suffering is inevitable. Misery is optional" ~Anonymous
There is an adage that people generally quote as, "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." Nobody knows who really said it so I feel freedom to assume liberty in taking acception and going with the good ol' "annonymous" guy. We need not argue over the absolutism of the wording; the words are but guideposts.
It can be a healthy practice to lean into to our suffering to explore deepening ourselves to the consideration that, perhaps, what we are aiming to experience is rarely achieved through inertia, but by continued practical to harrowing efforts to discover, uncover, and discard. I'm not discounting the activities we participate in that help us to stay sane if we've been lucky enough to have discovered those activities. I'm talking about one spending time with nothing else but stillness. It's not easy. Why would someone do that? Well -- for me I've had to stop perceiving my mind as "a bad neighborhood that I don't venture into without a gun and cab fare" -- for me it's been important to attempt to understand and befriend my mind. All I can say is that I'm able to sit with myself these days. I've experienced much resolve in relation to accepting certain character liabilities -- that G-d may remove them if I'm willing to part with em' -- letting go ain't easy -- the process continues. Recovery is often misrepresented when it's addressed as a process of addition rather than subtraction. Once someone's basic needs are met, it's generally time to start peeling back the layers. Personally, I've done this with the help of trauma therapists and participating in a community based fellowship program. This process can be uncomfortable and, at times, scary but it is essentially necessary to achieve sustainable recovery. There is a sense of urgency relative to our developmental growth so vital to the survival of our recovery that some of us believe it is only to be realized when we are consistently becoming comfortable with our discomfort -- discomfort that comes from contrary action, or, doing the right thing despite my SELF. We come to understand that this is a place available to us to establish true purpose, allowing us to enjoy the other areas of our lives. Nothing is left for some of us spiritually bankrupt folks but to have a spiritual experience of life. A life where we "participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world," as my friend Tom says. A life that is mostly absent of misery but not suffering. A life where I embrace my suffering. Is learning to suffer consciously a dimension of a spiritual experience? Hell yeah it is! And not only is that ok; it's badass. It's noble. It lends itself to our overall sense of meaning and growth.
To love is to suffer
You can substitute the word love with "live" and it still accomplishes its teaching. I wish someone would've began to teach this to me as a young man. The Buddha equated life to suffering; that our suffering is meant to be experienced willingly. He taught that there are root causes of suffering that are referred to as "defilements". One of those defilements is "aversion" or "resistance" -- a non acceptance of what is. In recovery we say -- an unwillingness to accept life on its terms. He laid out multiple pathways to becoming present -- that practicing mindful presence is a portal to an awakened experience. Buddha means "the awakened one" -- how to awaken is all he taught. Practicing to do this is a radical act of self love as well as love of one another.
Christ's life is the ultimate example of the connectedness to willful suffering. His submission to death on our behalf, and his life of service and sacrifice calls on us to humbly love and serve others. To me, the cross is a beautiful symbol of the paradoxical dimension of a spiritual path -- representative of what we are after, as people in recovery: The cross represents the convergence of the opposites. Meeting of the opposites is in everything we do if we look at our moment to moment experience. We're in a constant state of judgment: Up down, left right, right wrong, dark light, selfishness selflessness, etc. (We can thank Eve for that. )
- Admitting true defeat and powerlessness is how we access power.
- We only keep it by giving it away.
- We are reborn in death.
However we reach this understanding isn't the point -- as long as we reach it. I don't wish to create spiritual bias. I've just cited a few examples that I'm familiar with.
“It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.” ~Tom Brokaw
I remember when I first discovered service to others and the strange sense of purpose it arose in me. It felt like i was meeting up with an ancient friend from a past life and he was forgiving a debt owed to him. It was familiar and suspicious. I didn't quite trust it because I was aware I was performing acts of service that were partially based on how it would make me appear to others. I wasn't ok with that. Looking back I can see it was a necessary stage of my growth into a deeper sense of humility. I know now that I was seeking emotional sobriety. In January 1958, Bill Wilson wrote an article to the Grapevine entitled, “The Next Frontier: Emotional Sobriety.” This article is the substance of a letter Bill wrote to a close friend (in 1956) who, like Bill had troublesome depression. I encourage anyone to follow the link and read Bill's realizations as it relates to his own journey inward out from bondage. I've heard someone refer to the 12 steps as a program for people that are addicted to themselves.
There are as many ways to serve as there are stars in the sky it seems. Basically I would define service as, a humble act of kindness intended to decrease the suffering or increase the joy of the recipient or recipients. That can mean anything from offering a stranger a smile and opening the door for them -- to scraping a drunk off the sidewalk and getting him/her somewhere safe. The point is to be alert as often as possible as to not miss opportunities. Help when and where I can. However I'm serving -- what kind of attitude am I bringing forth? Am I kind or am I unapproachable? Am I noticeably grateful for the opportunity or am I hating it? Am I looking for credit or am I aiming to dodge recognition? Am I right sized? Am I a Humble servant?
"Love is not a feeling of happiness. Love is a willingness to sacrifice" ~Michael Novac
I've observed the ol' timers that have sustained a life of recovery that resembles normalcy, complete with a healthy roll in their families as well as purposeful work and hobbies. It's an easy conclusion to make that they have worked over time to grow in that experience of sacrificial love and service, that it most definitely wasn't handed to them. I know for me, my 7+ years of continuous recovery has been a daily schooling in how much I don't know. That's ok because I don't have to attempt to design the blueprint anymore, that's already been done for me; all I have to do is use the tools freely given to me. In some sense I'm rather infantile in my development and practice of sacrifice -- however, I have realized through experience that any relationship that I fail to grow in, my humility is doomed. It cannot sustain anything beyond co-dependence if I've made my needs more important than the other. The most rich moments in my relationship with my wife are when there is a healthy balance of submission. I don't want to waste time on the connotation of the word submission. I use my relationship with my wife as an example because it's the experience in life where I get the most practice at being or not being a principled individual. It's always a choice. Some recovery literature says that "a more important demonstration of these principles lie in our respective homes and occupations." This indicates to me that our relationships in those two dimensions of life are where the rubber hits the road in most of our lives. I had to acquiesce to the fact that successful relationships require sacrifice -- submission -- which requires a demolition of pride -- thus space for the fruits of humility to present themselves. The result is a deeper nearness and connectedness to ourselves, our partner, and our creator -- de-escalated resentment -- forgiveness -- understanding -- LOVE.
Whether or not any resolve has been achieved by me sharing my thoughts on this subject is not relevant. I think what matters is that they are shared; that I've used this as an opportunity to assess the nature of my own relationship to humility. Am I able to achieve a harmony with what is, no matter what the is-ness of the moment may be? Am I still willing to take advantage of opportunities to lessen the suffering in myself and in others?