Last week I wrote about gratitude, sharing my experience of how contrary to its associations with meekness, it can in fact be a form of unexpected power. Humility, if anything, is a quality that has even more of those mild saintly associations, leading us to think of doormats who turn the other cheek no matter what who is trampling all over them. And yet (surprise, surprise) nothing could be further than the truth, and here’s why….
First of all we need exactly to define what humility is. Because our ego often gives rise to excessive overpromotion, we feel that humility therefore involves the opposite extreme – publicly castigating ourselves and laying on excessive lashings of forced modesty. Yet the underlying feeling behind this kind of behaviour is insecurity and a desire to have others think better of us, and as such is just as much a manifestation of ego as excessive aggrandisement.
Humility is, quite simply, what happens when we go beyond the ego – a sincere and genuine self-appraisal, taking into account the entire being, all the faults and good points alike. As meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy points out “When you take a back seat consciously and deliberately in order to show others how humble you are, you are not being humble at all. True humility is something different; it is the feeling of oneness. Humility means giving joy to others. When we allow others to get joy, we feel our joy is more complete, more perfect, more divine.”
So, what can humility do for you?
- Humility brings self-awareness. Once you move away from the limited ego and the easy labels it offers you to define yourself by, you begin to find out that there is much about your deeper nature that is still a mystery. Humility moves us away from our own narrow sense of self and towards a more universal conception of who we are. So true humility and true self-confidence can indeed go together, because both are rooted in an appreciation and understanding of this deeper, vaster part of your being.
- Humility connects us with the world. Humility removes us from ideas of inferiority and superiority and expands our vision to take others into account. When we are humble, we fell more connected to our fellow human beings, and we become more empathetic and loving. This kind of connection with the world gives us a sense of expansion and vastness, which is itself a great power.
- Humility gives your words added power. Our ego often acts as an inflationary mechanism on our words, causing us to subconsciouly exaggerate statements, and over time, the weight of our statements will be lowered in the eyes of others. However, if our words come from a definite self-sincerity without any need to aggrandise ourselves in the process, then they will carry that ring of authenticity which will make people trust us more.
- Humility brings detachment. Often with the ego, we get welded to an opinion or idea and it becomes part of our own self-conception. Hence when someone attacks it, it seems as if are somehow attacking us, and we respond accordingly. However, when we have true humility, we learn not to take these things too seriously. If someone attacks your idea, you can evaluate that criticism on its merits instead of feeling hurt and wounded. We can therefore stay calm in the midst of criticism and argument, and serenely chart the best course forward.
- When you are humble, it is a sign you really have something to offer to the world. Often our ego acts because it tries to compensate for our shortcomings – hence the expression “empty vessels make the most noise”. However when you have this quality of humility, it allows you to bring what ever inner inspiration you have to the world in a very pure form, without the distortions caused by the ego’s aggrandisation.
- Humility helps you evolve as a person. If you are proud, then when shortcomings are pointed out, you will more often not just end up getting bitter at the person who pointed them out and digging a nice little mental trench for yourself. However, a humble person accepts his shortcomings for what they are, and is then able to work on their transformation for his personal growth.
So how do we cultivate humility?
- Visualisations for humility. One very nice way to cultivate humility is to visualise objects in nature that have a constant self-giving quality about them. Millions of people walk on grass every day and the grass never complains. When a tree has fruits to offer its branches bend down. The sun, offering its light every day without expectation of recompense. Nature has millions of examples of true inner strength and humility in silence.
- Putting good qualities in perspective. Often if we have a talent, we use it to mentally feel superior. If you find a good quality getting to your head, sincerely ask yourself if there is really no-one on earth more talented in that particular discipline than you: in 99% of cases there are thousands of people. This not only helps get rid of your vanity, it also helps you expand your awareness with the universe by considering all those people.
- Use the word ‘serve’ instead of ‘help’: When we say we are helping someone we often feel a little superior to the person we are helping, that they somehow posess a defect we do not. Instead if we use the term ‘serve’, we recognise the full worth of the person we are serving, and we feel grateful for the opportunity.
- Connect with a vaster part of ourselves. Often our ego is fed by insecurity, a feeling that the things we have could be taken away at any moment. However, when we use meditation to go beyond the ego, we find a part of ourselves that is all peace, bliss and light. It comes from inside ourselves, so no outer circumstance can rob us of it. When we identify with this part of our being, then we feel less need to listen to our limited ego.
Pictures from Kedar Misani, Sri Chinmoy Centre Galleries