Humility is one of our greatest virtues, as it essentially removes all obstacles to love and wisdom. Yet it isn’t something that is much talked about or even understood in our modern world – where the focus often is on do, do, do and know, know, know. In our rushing, fast paced, distracted and busy driven culture, humility may sound like a much too foreign concept, and perhaps some people even see it as a weakness, as they often think it means “humiliation” of some sort. That’s not true at all. In fact, humility can only come from a space of real courage, confidence and strength within one’s spiritual core and deep self-knowledge.
So today let’s discuss what humility is, and what it isn’t, and how it helps us towards more love, wisdom and joy in our life and personal relationships; and at the end of the article I will guide you through some simple practices that nurture humility and living in more love, joy and wellbeing.
The term humility comes from the Latin word humilitas, a noun related to the adjective humilis, which may be translated as “humble”, but also as “grounded”, “from the earth”, or “low”, since it derives in turns from humus (earth).
This shows us that humility is actually a path towards groundedness and a sense of proportion – which puts us in reverence, and in approaching life through the eyes of the beginner’s mind i.e. through openness to learn from one another and connect on a deeper level.
In simple terms, humility is the absence of arrogance, just like saying “I love you” is an absence of fear and judgment. Diving deeper – humility becomes the doorways towards love, towards our willingness to learn and grow, towards genuineness, and towards reverence.
Humility never negates our worth, and it isn’t about hiding our talents and gifts, nor staying small hiding in a corner; it isn’t about feeling ashamed nor restricted to step forward and shine, and desire the recognition for our work well done, our skills, gifts and talents. Our gifts and talents are God given, and we should absolutely shine and inspire to succeed and be recognized for our hard work. We should also always have strong boundaries and humility isn’t about not voicing our opinions nor staying in the corner out of fear.
Humility isn’t about thinking less of ourselves – it is only about understanding the importance of interdependence and humanness – it is about treating one another as human beings, accepting that we don’t know it all because we are not Gods, treating each other kindly and respectfully disagreeing while still staying in our truth.
The beauty of humility is that we can be honest, more real, we can relax, and not feel the burden of the world nor carry all the pressures of knowing all the answers on our shoulders. It relieves us of control, relieves us of ambitious goals to be the biggest, best and most polished perfect version in front of others, while also relieving the shame when we are not that.
Humility allows us to exhale in an honest “I don’t know”. And there is so much power in that, wisdom in that. Because an honest “I don’t know” is better than a tried answer or dishonest answer or dogmatic answer or absolutist answer. There is humanness in “I don’t know” and there is wisdom in it – because we can’t know it all, and we were never meant to know it all anyway.
Humility is deeply and directly related to joy and to wisdom – it is perhaps the most human virtue, and it is nourishing to our soul and spirit.
Humility allows us to open up our palms, to support, to help and to be of service, which also makes us feel more purposeful and joyful. Humility allows us to be generous. It allows us to be human and humane, and help other people whenever we are able to, and kneel down to help a tiny animal also. Our world certainly needs more generous people, because it’s become quite unhealthy.
This beautiful illustration is of the tiger passing to the rabbit the new Chinese year. Each one has something to teach and to learn from; yet no one is above the other. Through the bow, they show the appreciation and respect, and the acknowledgement that the essence of God and love move through all shapes and forms, have different speeds and movements, yet it is all purposeful.
Humility as Willingness to Learn:
We bow in willingness to learn, to learn from all things, little and big, no matter how and where they show themselves. Humility, just like love, requires us to pay attention, to be attentive, and not to assume that we know it all. There is always something more to learn, to discover and explore, within ourselves and one another. And then, even then, after many years of being with one person and living under the same roof, humility must remain – for our inner worlds are always changing, and there is always something new to re-discover, re-learn, re-explore. Essentially, humility allows us an opportunity for a deepening.
Humility as Genuineness:
Humility, very simply, is an absence of arrogance, just like saying I love you is an absence of fear and judgement. Often times the greatest obstacle to life and building genuine relationships is arrogance. Just think about how many people we meet who always make judgments and assumptions about us without actually putting in the effort to getting to know us. This comes from a place within them of low self-worth and selfishness, so they feel the need to validate their own existence and self-importance through their arrogance. Nothing true and meaningful can ever be built from that space. When we approach life through humility, through the bowing of our ego centered selves, we can then actually see another and hear them the way they are – and from that, a true connection can be created. Real humility is genuineness with a kindness of rhythm, and the innocence and openness of a pure heart.
Humility as Love.
True love is a devotional pathway, a process of humility, a dissolution of our high horse views, of letting go of our individual ideas about another person. It is a process of taking another as part of you, and caring for their wellbeing – and we can’t be there for a person truly if we only give to them based on what we want in return or we think they need; we need to give to another based on what they need, and to understand that, we need to stay humble and truly listen. Recognize the efforts your loved ones make towards you each day, because despite they hardships they might feel on the inside, they are trying their best. We are all trying our best.
When we are proud and inflexible, we are more easily wounded. We become like tall dry grass that cannot sway free in the winds, and will eventually be broken, without ever having the ability to be who we are anyway – because we are going against our nature, which is the nature of love and allowing life itself to flow through us and expand us and shift us. Love is not there to make us happy all the time, it is here to shift us, grow us, transform us, so that we are better human beings more truthful to who we are. Our pride is an obstacle to developing our understanding, compassion, kindness, and it is our greatest obstacle to experiencing true and boundless love. When we are humble we have nothing to fear, nothing to lose, and the need to judge and criticize dissolves. We more easily flow with the circumstances that we find ourselves in and are more open to learn and to transform ourselves – to learn to love more deeply and truly.
Humility as Reverence.
When we are authentically empowered and stand in our spiritual core and in our true heart, we are humble. Humility doesn’t mean to lower ourselves and hurt ourselves in staying with those who mistreat us, no, absolutely no; it only means to have the higher understanding that you can always move away from those who harm you with peace, there is no need for revenge or diminishing yourself further. It means a deeper reverence and honour for life itself, for the greater interconnections and interweavings of life that we may not ever understand, yet we still rever in these greater teachings.
When we approach our own work through reverence and devotion, we learn the most. It is the concept of chop wood, carry water – it is the patience of rhythm and consistency, as we are aligned to our intention of serving and contributing rather than some ego success or instant gratification numbing. Every emotion arising within us is a way through which God experiences himself in a way he could not have otherwise. Like waves, ebbs and flows, life itself expands and contracts in our chest; and this is perhaps how God breathes – through us. So every little step matters. Through our limited understanding and conditioned human minds, we can’t think that we’ll ever know it all. We were never meant to know it all anyway, and this is a humility that deserves to be treasured. Essentially, humility frees us from all that restrained the mind that one is better than another. It reminds us that this life is a life of interdependence, and we all are dependent on things much higher than us; yet it also reminds us that this life is a blessing, a gift, and we must treasure it. It puts all into perspective, so that we can finally see beyond the seen, and appreciate the little things in front of which we’ll bow in deep reverence and gratitude.
Practices that nurture humility:
- Listen more than you speak.
- Try not to judge and assume things about another person no matter how much you think you know them.
- Do something in service to others and to contribute to someone’s day be better and happier.
- Support someone and their work, donate or volunteer.
- Before you speak consider your true intention and motivation, if it is something needed to be said and whether it will contribute to the wellbeing of someone.
- Open the door for others no matter if child, elder, male or female.
- Offer your sit in public transport to those who need it.
- Admit when you are wrong and take self-accountability and responsibility.
- Feed the animals.
- Observe what you can learn from nature’s little treasures and its natural flow.
- Support someone even when they don’t know it; have someone’s back even they can’t see you or thank you.
- Do not engage or entangle yourself with negative, selfish or mean people and do not let them drown you in their own arrogance. They have their own karmas and it is not up to you to save them from their misery. They have to learn their own way, and you can’t teach anything to anybody who can’t or doesn’t want to understand it anyway.
- Try to let go of controlling others, and instead, focus on controlling your impulsivity, manage your emotions and exercise discipline towards your actions and reactions.
- Accept the wavings of life and that disappointment is natural to happen. We all make mistakes and can always have something to improve on. No one is perfect.
- Accept that others can only show up for you as much as they have the capacity within themselves to; and that many people just don’t know how to love, so focus on you and how you can contribute and be a better person.
- Remember that we all see from different views and windows, angles and perspectives, all usually shaped from our own experiences, feelings and stands. Ten monks sat around an elephant and each described what they saw: one saw the trunk, the other the leg, and each had their own truth yet no one’s truth was truer than the other nor was it the higher Truth.
- Even when you are sure you know something or the outcome of something, consider leaving a little space for the unknown, a page or even a sentence unwritten, so that life can surprise you. Perhaps you’ll even see a miracle unfold.
- Be grateful for all that you have, and take pleasure in the little things.
- Remember the power of the honest “I don’t know” – stop burdening yourself to have all the answers, we are not Gods. We will never know it all, and we were never meant to know it all anyway. The humility of this deserves to be treasured.
- Do not resist, run away from nor hide from what makes you feel vulnerable. Embracing our vulnerable moments can be deeply nourishing – it relaxes us and relieves us of the pressure to be perfect or polished always; it takes the burdens and pressures off our shoulders.
- Look at the stars, learn the stars. Give yourself some time in the evenings to disconnect from the internet, go in nature and look up – it is about the remembering the beauty of it all, and the smallness and humbleness of each one of us as tiny stars within the enormity of the universe. This gives us proportion and perspective – but it also reminds us of beauty, and of what matters most in our life, which is our family, our loved ones, love, kindness, humanness.
- Serve others. It’s in the giving that we receive. And we feel more purposeful and joyful when we do something for another person or tiny animal. It also shifts the focus away from our sense of self importance, and may even free us from our worries.
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Cover art by Boyana Petkova.