Practices in Humility

By Beth O'Hara - August 2014

Practices in Humility

I was recently in a situation where I perceived my value was being discounted and I was being elbowed to the side. My body became a whirlwind of sensations and feelings; my chest and face flushed with anger and my belly sank with unworthiness. Judging thoughts tormented my mental landscape and I could no longer focus on the content or the outcomes of the meeting, steeping in my stew of reactivity.

Then by some act of grace, I was eventually able to come back to my breath and remember that only I could give permission for my value to be diminished. And in reality, this experience wasn't even outside of me. I was the one unconsciously diminishing my value! I kept breathing and reminding myself that I determine my value. After a few minutes, I was finally was able to come back as a present participant. This led to a study in humility.

Humility and Pride

In the Enneagram world, Humility is the virtue at point 2 and Pride is the fixation. This is an excellent practice for anyone fixated at Type 2. And since we contain all the fixations and virtues within us, observing our pride and taking on a practice of humility is good training for anyone on a spiritual path, regardless of Enneagram type.

Pride is a Double Sided Coin

Pride has two extremes – elevation and depression. The form of pride we are talking about is the pride that creates superiority over others, which can show up in overt and subtle ways, arising in the form of thoughts like: “I am better, I know more, I know how to help you, I know what you need and even I am more loving than you”.

This stems from a sense of inadequacy – “I elevate myself so I don’t have to feel that I’m less than you”. Insecurity is always just the flip side of pride - anytime pride, arrogance or superiority is present, you can be sure insecurity is underneath. False humility is also a form of pride and shows up as “I don’t need any help and I can do it myself”. False humility can also be an attention-getting maneuver: “I’m not good enough, You are so much better than me, I’m not as talented as you”.

What Does Humility Mean?

In English, the modern usage of the word humility is often rife with discounting one’s worth. The word often has synonyms of lowliness, submissiveness, and meekness. These definitions can be useful if coming from a place of extreme egoism with a desire to tame narcissism. At the same time, this is simply a swing of the pendulum from elevation to near degradation. Both create separation.

How Can We View Humility from Unity?

The modern definitions of humility have evolved through cultural overlays on the Latin roots. The word humility comes from Latin humilitas which means “grounded” and “from the earth” and is related to humilis meaning “on the ground”. Working from the Latin, humility can mean “equal to the soil on which we walk” and from which we are all created”. The soil has tremendous value and has no need to elevate itself. From this sense of humility, the word can mean “having a clear perspective, a respect for one’s place within each context, a sense of worth without self-asserting”. The ground cannot be lowered because is already as low as possible.  

The soil is the foundation upon which everything is built. Everything is from the earth and returns to the earth. The earth is a part of everything, never separate. From this unity, there is nothing to defend, nothing to maintain.

Noticing Pride Arising

What are the situations that trigger your pride? What are the feelings that accompany pride? What are the sensations that arise in your body? What thoughts flood your mind? Take this as a practice for a day, a week or even a month to observe the many forms pride takes. You may want to capture these impressions in some way (like journaling, audio recording or digital notes) so you can review them down the road to gain fresh perspectives when you are outside of the reactivity.

Practicing Humility

1.     Experiencing pride is simply a part of being human. As you are witnessing pride, notice with compassion and without judging yourself. This is a humility practice in remembering that your pride is not separate, not bad, not something to judge. Remember that we are all one within our experience of pride.

2.    Meditate on the Tao Te Ching. Many of the verses in the Tao Te Ching are about humility in its unitive aspect. Stephen Mitchell, David Burke and Ursula Le Guin offer great translations.

3.    Remember that you are not separate. With every interaction, make it a practice to remember that you are one with this person. If you know you are going into a situation where your pride buttons will be pressed, bring this practice to mind and take some deep breaths before going into the situation.

4.    Carry a stone or a rock.Something to remind you that you are part of the earth. Hold this stone in your hand when you are being triggered.

5.    Make a list of your “place within each context”. Make a list of the value you bring in different areas in your life. If you find yourself feeling above others, make a list of the value others bring as well. See yourself as a partner in a beautiful dance of creation with everyone in your life.

6.    Carry yourself with groundedness and love. Every mental and emotional state is interwoven within the body. Shifting your posture changes your heart and mind. Practice walking, standing and sitting with your feet and legs connected to the earth, spine upright and chest/heart open. Spend time sitting and breathing into your belly, your legs and feet to ground yourself. Breathe the energy of the earth up into your bones to connect you to your humility. Breathe into your heart and visualize your heart energy connected with others. Breathe into your mind and visualize cleansing, quieting energy. Then practice this while standing, walking and interacting with others.

I would love to hear about your experiences with pride and humility! Please share your thoughts, experiences, and any advice you have for transforming pride and practicing humility in the comments below.

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