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Four weeks ago in this space, we had a conversation about the spirit of self-reliance. Eight weeks ago, we, the #SpiritChat community, engaged in a conversation about acceptance. This week, we broach the subject of humility, while keeping the concepts of acceptance and self-reliance in mind. 

So, in the context of our spiritual journey, what is humility? Some may define it as being related to “letting-go”, in the vein of “self-surrender”. Some may define it as modesty or a “shrinking of the ego”, such that it reduces our own sense of “self-importance”. Having grown up in the East, and now lived in the West for more than half my life, I have observed that humility which leads to acceptance, seems to come more readily to those with a spiritual bent of heart than those with a scientific, proof-seeking bent of mind. This is not about a battle between Spirituality and Science – in fact, it is quite the opposite – but that’s a different conversation 🙂

This is not to say that humility, per se is a virtue, in all conditions. In what situations is humility not a virtue? Some of my good friends have argued with me (on and off of social media) about the fact that a false sense of humility does harm to our self-esteem, our self-reliance, our sense of acceptance. And I would agree. If we act in a humble way in order to merely impress others, in order to flaunt our humility as a virtue, we are simply refusing to live our own truth. No amount of humility can cover the façade of living an inauthentic life. 

Regardless of what we may think about the virtues or non-virtues of humility, some enlightened Masters – well, those that I consider enlightened anyway – have stressed the role of humility in the master/teacher/sensei and student relationship. Approaching a teacher with a humble attitude of learning, lowers our ego barriers and puts us in a position to receive. Without humility, the energy flow, the energy transfer, encounters excessive resistance, and the current flows poorly. My grandmother used to say – when it rains (blessings) on us, we cannot collect rain with a closed fist; we have to open our palms, put them in a humble, receiving mode, to receive the blessings!

Yes, humility can put us in a position to let the energy of those who may have the ability to influence and help us, help us. On the other hand, I wonder if all of this talk of humility is perhaps anathema to the often praised virtues phrased as “self-cultivation”, “individual achievement”, “pursuit of excellence”, and more. If it is anathema, can we somehow, albeit temporarily, lower our own sense of self, take a deep breath and step back a little from our sense of self-importance? What would we stand to gain in the process? How would our friends and families benefit from our practice of humility? How would our communities benefit?

In a book on Yoga entitled “Light on Life”, BKS Iyengar states that the reason we are often advised to “take a deep breath” is so that we can follow that deep breath with a deep exhalation. It is in that exhalation that we practice a little bit of self-surrender, a bit of humility, as we come to the awareness that we need the next breath, in order to sustain life. No matter how adept we may become at “holding our breath”, we have to eventually exhale. Or, the emotional toxins will accumulate in our bodies – the toxins that I call R.A.G.E. – Resentment, Anger, Greed, Envy, and perhaps more.

“Exhalation empties the brain, and pacifies the ego, bringing it to quiescent humility. Exhalation is a sacred act of surrender, of self-abandonment.” – BKS Iyengar (Light on Life)

A quiescent humility. A surrender. A self-abandonment.  We can live it with every breath, if we choose to do so. Will  we?


P.S. I invite you to join me and the #SpiritChat community on twitter on Sunday July 20th at 9am ET  / 2pm UK / 6:30pm India. We will have a conversation about humility, take a few deep breaths, and exhale! If you are not able to join the live chat, I invite you to share your thoughts on humility in the comments below. Namaste, and Be Well.