The Power of Humility

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.”

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Are other people holding you back from fulfilling your dreams?

There are few greater sources of frustration and unhappiness than the feeling that your journey to happiness is being delayed by the demands and opinions of others. What makes it worse is that these demands often come from from the people close to you – parents, siblings and friends. So how can you navigate this web of demands and still follow your dreams? We offer a few observations on the matter:

Remember that other people’s opinions very often stem from their own insecurities. If you have the inner inspiration to do something new or to drop an old destructive habit, this can easily be seen by other people as a challenge to their way of thinking. Explain politely but firmly that what they are doing might be perfectly fine for them, but not for you.

Beware of people telling you you have to be realistic. Often their ‘realism’ is defined by the experiences they have had – we generaly tend to move in tight circles of where negative thoughts are confirmed by negative experiences and positive thoughts are confirmed by positive experiences – in many ways our thoughts really do shape the world we see. So if you are planning to take a step into the unknown, bear in mind other people might have built a whole life on ‘playing it safe’ and that is all they know. Often it is best not to get into direct confrontation, but instead ‘humour’ them by saying things like ‘you are just trying this option out for a little while’ whilst at the same time quietly and firmly going about your own thing. Continue reading “Are other people holding you back from fulfilling your dreams?”

The unexpected power of gratitude

In today’s fast moving world, qualities such as gratitude seem to belong to another age – a simpler time when life moved along at an easier pace and there was time to appreciate everything. Yet within this apparently meek sounding quality there lies a tremendous source of power that can radically reshape the way you look at the world.

What gratitude can do for us:

  • Puts things in perspective: Human beings have this self-defeating propensity to let the bad things in life fill our mental vision and leave no room for the good, a tendency reflected and perpetuated by television and newspapers. Often it takes just one bad thing to happen for us dwell on it and get depressed, no matter how many good things that are happening. In cultivating a daily practice of gratitude, we start to reverse that process and gain a true perspective on life.
  • Lifts us above the ebbs and tides of life: The more you develop the quality of gratitude in your life, you will start feeling grateful even when bad things happen to you, because you will have developed the inner vision to see that good things and bad happenings are nothing but experiences to shape you and make you stronger. Hence you will be able to have piece of mind no matter what the outer circumstances are.
  • Takes us out of our limited ego: As with other practices of self-discovery, your awareness expands and you gradually feel you are part of something much more infinite than your limiting ego and finite mortal frame. Gratitude helps us turn away from self-centredness and realise our place in the universe.
  • Awakens a higher part of our being: Gratitude is primarily a quality felt by the heart centre, that place in the middle of our chest where we can feel our soul, or the essence of our existence. Therefore, when we are consciously grateful, some inmost part of ourselves is awakened and we enter into the higher and nobler realms of our being.

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Exploring the essence of human goodness

Goodness is something that abides within each one of us, surfacing again and again in the most ordinary actions. Yet it is not some abstract counterpart to evil, but a quality that can be cultivated and increased to great benefit in our lives. In our brief exploration of the quality goodness, we seek to find out where this quality comes from, as well as distinguish what it is not.

Goodness is often in small things

Goodness speaks in a whisper, evil shouts

Tibetan proverb

The reason who so many newspapers carry predominantly negative news is that its dramatic nature jumps out at us more than the millions of little kindnesses being performed day in, day out all over the world. Goodness does not seek to create drama or bring attention to itself, it just seeks to offer what it has to make the world a better place. Many acts of goodness have a sense of being in the present moment, doing the small things right here and now rather than waiting an eternity to do something huge.
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Happiness from the inside out

“It is impossible not to notice that, in some of the poorest parts of the world, most people, most of the time, appear to be happier than we are. In southern Ethiopia, for example, the poorest half of the poorest nation on earth, the streets and fields crackle with laughter. In homes constructed from packing cases and palm leaves, people engage more freely, smile more often, express more affection than we do behind our double glazing, surrounded by remote controls. This is not to suggest that poverty causes happiness…but while poverty does not cause happiness, there appears to be some evidence that wealth causes misery. Since 1950, 25-year-olds in Britain have become 10 times more likely to be affected by depression. And it is surely fair to say that most of us suffer from subclinical neuroses, anxiety or a profound discomfort with ourselves.”

George Monbiot, The Guardian, 27 August 2002

Since childhood, we are subtly yet continuously guided to look to the outside world and the material benefits it offers for contentment and happiness, such that for many of us, it is the only real way we know. Yet as we become repeatedly disappointed by outer events, we begin to lose faith in the possibility of there being any happiness at all. Instead of looking to outer events for inner happiness (living from the outside in), let us consider instead what happens when we instead look inwardly for happiness and then bring what receive from there to the outer world – living from the inside out. To those who have been embittered against the possibilities of happiness, the life changing effects this simple change in philosophy can bring may sound too good to be true, and yet millions of people from all over the world can attest to a happiness that comes not from chasing after the material things of the world, but from being grounded in the joy and inner peace of their own being.

A sense of purpose

When we start the day by going deep within through some practice of meditation (or prayer for those who are religiously inclined), slowly we begin to get in touch with the deepest parts of our being, and feel a connection to something vast and infinite, a greater sense of purpose than our own narrow desires and wants. In this space, – who you are, and what you are supposed to be doing with the short span of life you have on earth.

The funny thing is, each of us instinctively know this, and deep within we are always meaning to stop and catch some space to find out what we want – we always tell ourselves we will do it when we finish whatever it is we are caught up in at the moment! The Tibetan Buddhist teacher Sogyal Rinpoche called this ‘Western laziness’ – “cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so that there is no time at all to confront the real issues.” The outside world is often guilty of driving this behavour along, as if it knows that if we ever slowed down, the whole thing would just fall apart. Continue reading “Happiness from the inside out”

How to keep many projects going and keep your sanity too

There are certain times of the year it seems as if there is a million and one projects all trying to squeeze out through this bottleneck called ‘you’! Depending on how we handle ourselves, we either look back on these times as ones of great stress and worry, or with the glowing satisfaction of getting a job well done. Here are a few tips on ensuring the latter result prevails:

Start the day with time for yourself

As tempting as it might be to wake up and suddenly rush into all the things you have to do, it is more beneficial to start the day an hour later and from a position of inner strength. In particular I would recommend two invaluable practices that will considerably reduce the stress overload from the coming day: meditation and physical exercise. A good morning meditation imbues you with a sense of peace and strength, and will considerably help your focus as you enter into life’s challenges. In addition 30 minutes of running, walking or other aerobic activity will also help to shake free any tiredness and crankiness and liven you up as you enter the daily battlefield.

Keep one focus at a time

When you are working on a project, work single-mindedly on it without thinking of the myriad other things you have to do. If an idea comes to you about another project, write it down and continue on with what you were doing, so you can then come back to it.

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Life lessons you can learn from children

Mongolia child

It’s rather amazing that as children we perpetually look forward to the time when we grow up and can do anything we want, but then once we grow up and become laden with responsibilities, we wistfully look back to those carefree childhood days! Certainly we ‘miss’ out on some things as we make the transition to adulthood; by looking at how children see the world, we can certainly learn (or relearn) some things to introduce in our own lives….

Living in the moment

… The world began this morning,
God-dreamt and full of birds…

– Patrick Kavanagh

As we grow older, our thoughts become increasingly focused on either the past or the future instead of the now; we seem to pick up the art of nursing grievances about things that happened and worrying about things that may never happen. But for a child, everything is unfolding in real time before his eyes; he has not yet learnt the art of being consumed by past or future. I remember a very interesting experience about a year ago when I was playing badminton with some young friends of mine. The four year old youngest brother wanted his older brother to give him the badminton racket, and the older brother pushed him away, whereupon he promptly say down and started to cry. However, out of the corner of his eye he spotted a spare shuttlecock lying around – the tears soon dried up, and in no time he was totally absorbed in his new plaything. I was totally amazed at how quickly his focus had switched from crying to playing with the toy; if that happened between adults we’d be still feeling aggrieved about it days later! Continue reading “Life lessons you can learn from children”

Five ways to reclaim the energy you waste every day


Speaking personally, I often wish I had 48 hours a day to do all things I would like to do each day! Yet the main reason we fail to be as productive as we would like is not because of lack of time, but rather because of misuse of energies. Years of ‘practice’ has us spending countless amounts of energy every day doing things and getting into situations that leave us no closer to reaching our life goals. But here are some tips on how to reclaim some of that energy for things that you REALLY want:

1. Cut down on useless thinking

If we spent a day looking at the nature of our thoughts – mainly worrying about the future or agonizing about the past, often negative against others but more often yourself – it’s not surprising that at the end of the day we feel as if we have just fought our way through a battlefield! At the beginning we get a kind of perverse joy out of negative thinking, but this two-edged sword quickly turns on us and leaves us in a ‘me-against-the-world’ situation, totally devoid of hope and inspiration. The trick is to resist the initial thrill you get from negative thoughts, by remembering how damaging they are. It has been mentioned many times on this blog, but it always bears repeating how a practice of meditation can really help you in this regard, by training you to first still your mind, and then to allow in only the thoughts you want to have.

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Eliminating your weakness – the positive way


Often we feel that by constantly being aware of our weaknesses and analyzing them to death, we are making progress towards eliminating them. Yet very often the exact opposite is true: by focusing on our weaknesses, we often end up only perpetuating the cycle of misery and self-loathing that these weaknesses inflict upon us, and we in fact increase their hold upon us.

It can be much more rewarding to instead work on cultivating the opposing positive quality as an antidote. This has a number of advantages over merely ruminating on your negative qualities. By invoking positive qualities and seeing the transforming effect they have on your life, you feel a new sense of empowerment and are inspired to continue. Also, we all like adding new things to our life, and each new positive quality we develop makes us feel a fuller, more rounded person. Most importantly, we deprive these negative qualities of the mental oxygen they need to fester inside us.

Here are a few negative qualities and the ‘antidote’ quality to them that you can cultivate; as you can see, it is by no means an exhaustive list and I am sure you can easily think of a few more….

Doubt and certainty

Self-doubt can be one of the most damaging of all our negative qualities, in that it scuppers our attempts at self transformation and often dooms us to failure before we even get out of the starting blocks. Often we are so burdened down with doubt and hesitation that we never make the first move at all. However if we can feel that inwardly we are destined to achieve our goal, then the distance between us and that goal shortens immeasurably. We may stumble time and time again, but the very fact that we are determined never to give up means that these qualities will one day surrender to our will power.

Lethargy and dynamism

This is one very obvious application of cultivating a positive quality. In fact the very word ‘dynamism’ has great power, and just by repeating it over and over again, you begin to feel like a human dynamo, filled with energy and constantly on the move. As you feel it you can try and identify where in your body the lethargy is coming from, and imagine that you are surcharging that area with tremendous energy and enthusiasm.

Jealousy and oneness

Jealousy comes because we feel a sense of ‘otherness’ – i.e. someone else has what we do not, someone else has achieved something and is getting all the credit. In this case, the best antidote is to remove this sense of otherness by instead feeling your oneness with that person. In a way, you can think of the world as a giant family. In a normal family, when someone does something great, the brothers and sisters feel just as proud and happy as if they had done it themselves. Similarly, you can feel the same sense of joy that someone in your global family has done something great – in fact when you really develop this sense of oneness, you can definitely feel the same joy as if you achieved that thing yourself.

Anger and peace

The effect that inner peace has on controlling your anger is something many people find out about naturally when they take up a practice of meditation. For example, I came to the practice of meditation not knowing exactly what to expect. Practically the first thing I found that the ‘trigger spots’ that used to make me see red somehow failed to have that effect anymore – the inner peace I had found from meditation had somehow seeped into my outer life and neutralised much of the temper I had. In fact one meditation exercise you can do is use breathing to cultivate peace; when you breath in, feel that peace is entering and spreading through your entire being, and when you breathe out, you can feel that all the stress, tension and anger is leaving your system for good.

(Photo: Sri Chinmoy Centre Galleries Macedonia)

Self-Improvement Ideas

Rails in the sun

We often look at aspects of our lifestyle and say to ourselves “oh, I wish I could change that”, but the prospect of commiting to change for an indefinite period of time is something we often find quite intimidating! Instead, why not try and embark on a new course of action for a finite period of, say, a month? There is some scientific evidence to support the notion that after about three weeks of doing something, a habit begins to form and you find it much easier to do that thing. 30 days is also a long enough time for you to see the benefits of what you are doing, so that you will be encouraged to pursue it further.

Here are three suggestions – there are many other ideas that would suit a 30 day programme out there, which I may write about in a future blog entry….

A little writing project with a big difference

No, we’re not talking about an essay or a creative composition – we’re only talking about a couple of minutes in the morning where you write down three dreams you hope to fulfill. You might start with writing down some things you hope to get done within the day, but often a spontaneous idea will often come along, or a thing you’ve never done but always wanted to try – write them all down, even if they are impractical at the moment or cannot be fulfilled immediately. The very act of writing generates a spontaneous energy to go out and fulfill the dream; it might not be realised overnight, but at least on that day you have begun to take the first step. Continue reading “Self-Improvement Ideas”