Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ask Parvati 7 – Cultivating the Sweetness of Humility

Ask Parvati 7 – Cultivating the Sweetness of Humility

Dear Parvati,

You mentioned in your last entry that a gem of a spiritual seeker will have a warm humility. I try to practice humility, but struggle with a tendency to go straight into self-loathing when I feel that I have done something egotistic. I feel this tendency is not humility. Can you explain a little more about humility and how it is different from beating yourself up?

I feel grateful for this question on a topic with which I am very much in process. I am no expert here, so I share some of what I have learned and witnessed so far on my journey. The lessons that have taught me aspects of humility have been among the toughest I have experienced, but also the sweetest. As the hard shell of the coconut cracks to reveal sweet meats, so too the hardness of our ego must dissolve in order to experience the nectar of lasting bliss.

Humility is an essential spiritual quality that we must all learn to cultivate if we are to walk the spiritual path. Because of the powerful strength found in the deep softness of humility, this topic is often easily misunderstood. I acknowledge its sweet immensity in wonder and awe.

Part of the process of evolution is learning to find a balanced relationship between the temporal and the eternal, the mundane and the cosmic. We are vast, radiant beings, like shining stars, learning to face, with grace and ease, situations and events that may make us feel constrictive.

Our life events are a reflection of our previous karmic tendencies (residue from our past) and an opportunity to flow within the divine play of pure consciousness arising. We learn to soften and welcome this moment, open to the teachings and the wisdom within it that give us what we need to let go of that which no longer serves, and embrace the fullness of who we are.

Just as a star eventually collapses and goes supernova, along the spiritual path there is a death of who we think ourselves to be, in order to become eternally free. The key elixir in the process of this death is the deceptively powerful force of humility. Humility has the alchemical power of transforming the base metals of our previous karmic tendencies into the gold of this moment.

The power of humility is a balanced dance within form and formlessness, where we understand that to meet this moment, to let go, to embrace what is, allows the stars that we are to be born into supernovae. As such, humility is a refined state of consciousness that both guides and teaches us on our spiritual path.

What makes humility so powerful is that it provides us with a balanced attitude of being an integral part within a vast and immense whole. Only in being humble can we truly learn to embrace this moment in all that it brings. Only in being humble can we truly learn to let go of how we want things to be, and learn what we need. Only in being humble are we rooted, vital and expansive enough to realize our true nature. We all cast shadows on this earth. The more we stand in pride, judgment and in illusions of grandeur, the deeper our shadow. By being willing to kneel in gratitude, bow in reverence, let go in wonder, the depth of our shadow decreases. And the death that we experience is the death of the temporal, the death of “me”, “mine” and “I”.

We commonly think of humility as a sheepish, apologetic state, which in itself speaks of a shadow of the ego. The ego is tricky, yet is also quite simple. It expresses itself in any feeling that makes us feel greater than or less than.

The Buddhist practice speaks of near enemies. For example, the near enemy of the sophisticated state of compassion would be sympathy. To be sympathetic for someone is a very different state than to be compassionate. So in the same way, nobodyness can often be misunderstood as humility. Nobodyness would be more along the lines of the ego’s tricky play of feeling less than, which is often rooted in self-loathing or shame.

Self-loathing can come in various forms. It can be an active aggression against oneself, or a more passive attachment to a sense of self-disgust. It is perhaps useful to think of self-loathing as the personality’s misguided understanding of the energy flow in this moment. This misguided understanding brings one into the experience of an emotional dead end, feeling trapped with no way out. The pattern of self-loathing becomes a self-sabotage technique that pulls us away from the fullness of the moment and into a disconnected, painful state.

Of course, there is the potential for the vicious cycle of loathing the self-loathing, which just generates more suffering. The opportunity for us is, once we realize we are in a pattern of self-loathing, to stop, to breathe, and allow ourselves to be right here, right now. It is natural to feel overwhelmed when we first start to practice this. It’s like a new muscle that takes time to develop. So continue to bring your awareness back to whatever this moment is for you.

And in that space, the tendency for self-loathing will likely return. But in that space, we can begin to witness it rather than react to it and give it energy. In the process of witnessing it, we can begin to make different choices, choices rooted in a more connected sense of self, choices inspired by the freedom of humility.

It takes humility to learn to release this misunderstanding of your true nature and begin to consciously choose different avenues of expression. Life is an ongoing opportunity for us to meet face-to-face the results of our previous actions. We can resist, dislike, judge and feel ashamed of what we see as a reflection of who we are; or we can choose to move a new way, out of the dead end and into the flow. The ability to see clearly that we have been self-loathing requires humility, asking us to soften to what is, to find a middle place that is neither mired in a painful tendency nor steeped in avoidance. This humility holds within it both the gentleness required to meet the moment and the alignment to an energy greater than the self, that is in service to evolution. So rather than fighting or avoiding self-loathing, humility teaches us to see it as it is, accept it in all its colours, and return to our connection, to our radiant star-like reality, and shine.

We can feel resistance to realizing that we are stars, let alone to knowing that we can go supernova. In the last blog entry, we explored the trickiness of the ego and how all that shimmers may not be light. So to even come into alignment with the realization that we are stars requires humility. To say “Hey, wow, look at me, I’m a brilliant star!” or to sheepishly avoid shining, are both expressions of ego-driven disconnect. Humility teaches us a relaxed acceptance of our true nature, that we are perfect beings within a perfect universe, with imperfect qualities that require conscious attention to refine.

We are perfectly equipped with everything we need to evolve. It takes humility to maintain a non-comparative, non-judgmental point of view so that we can just get on and do our work just as we are and be in a relaxed, celebratory state of awareness that we are within an intelligent, vast whole.

I cannot say whether one arrives into a permanent state of humility, because on my journey so far, I am very much in a deepening, ongoing evolutionary process with it. But sages remind us of a reality in which all aspects of the ego dissolve and we experience a continual flow of unity consciousness and bliss. May you find the light, playful wonder to meet the moment with humility so that you may realize the fullness of who you are.


  1. Like last week, this is another concept I don't really understand or get, perhaps because of my impaired social skills, though I am no stranger to self-loathing or beating myself up. Nonetheless, I look forward to reading a new blog entry every Sunday evening.

  2. Keval, I don't think it's a social skills thing. When the habit of self-loathing is deeply ingrained, it can be hard to see another way, and hard to begin to practice it when we do see it. It's taken me a few years of hard work and grace to come to terms with my own near-addictive tendency to be hard on myself. When that tendency holds sway over my thoughts, humility is very hard for me to understand. What this blog offers both of us is an opportunity to step back from the tendency, remember we are more than this, and be willing to accept Amma's view of us instead of our distorted view of ourselves.

  3. That's beautifully said, Pranada.
    Humility is a topic that I can never hear too much about. The bible speaks a lot about humility and I've always confused it with giving up one's power. Yet I think that true humility is very powerful. Look at Gandhi for instance. I think this line says it all: "Humility teaches us a relaxed acceptance of our true nature, that we are perfect beings within a perfect universe, with imperfect qualities that require conscious attention to refine." I have to remind myself of that over and over again.

  4. When I first started reading the words of this blog, I found myself becoming tense, and then emotional. I couldn't understand why. It's taken me a while to see that I have continued to hide behind a near enemy of humility, a more and more subtle and carefully disguised ongoing self-loathing. I can see that part of me was convinced that to practice humility, it was enough just to recognize my shortcomings. The humility you describe here, Parvati, is one that recognizes not just the imperfection, but the perfection that lies beneath. It is this that I was resisting, feeling unable to go there and see that in myself.

    It is so easy for those in a state of self-loathing and nobodyness to assume (as I have done in the past) that there is some sort of virtue in it, as though it is a mark of egolessness. What my emotional response helped me to see is how much ego is still very much bound up in nobodyness and self-loathing for me, and how it is just as essential to release that tendency as it is to release any sense of "I'm so great", entitlement, selfishness, etc. Thank you for a blog that answered my question not simply in words, but experientially.

    Humility, in all its tender vulnerability, is the great undoer of pretention and erroneous identification. I am most grateful that I am called to it again and again and again.

  5. Reading this post, and the comments, I am reminded of the last stanza of Amma's bhajan Wondrous Goddess:
    Asking you with humility
    to know the fruit of human birth.
    Merciful and radiant Goddess
    lovingly I bow to Thee.

  6. Thank you for your comments and all that you have shared. I love the quote from the bhajan Keval!