Monday, May 11, 2009

Chewing on humble pie

For the past week and more, I have been working on a new spiritual practice...exploring humility. This is a virtue that I have struggled to embrace for the balance of my life. Part of that struggle is one of confidence, or lack thereof. I worry about how people perceive me so I overcompensate by trying to sound competent and powerful when I could just as well express an honest lack of understanding of a topic or task. The other part is fear. I fear being unable to keep up with people who are moving at a faster pace in life. I don't want to fall behind and so I push that much harder to stay up and on top of the curve.

The thing is, just like in the movies, there is always someone out there who is smarter, faster, more adept. Humility allows you to see that person as the gift they are to you. You, recognizing their skill, have the opportunity to learn from them, and as a leader you are then able to capitalize on their gifts for the benefit of all. Not easy, because it means letting a great deal of grace and patience into the inner workings of my pride and fear. It also takes a lot of energy on the front end. I have to resist the impulse to push away things and people that threaten my sense of being able to control my surroundings. The child says, "I can do it myself." Adults are more subtle, and the hubris more stealthy. Like Odysseus, we too often tell ourselves, "Who needs the gods to get things done?"

The old maxim of "if you want to hear God laugh, tell God your plans" applies here. When I lack humility, I get attached to outcome. I want my way to be THE way to get things done. I have a personal ego stake in how things turn out. I am mired in having people see things in a certain way, and to make sure I can express control over ALL the little things that could erode that moment of pride and control I want to enjoy at the end of the day.

But, in the long run, pride doesn't get the job done. Not at all. If I insist on wiring a lamp or fixing a toilet "my way" and it isn't the right way to get things done, I won't get the expected results. I might electrocute myself or someone else. I might flood the bathroom. I might break the whole bloody thing and wind up having to call in an expert, which then costs me more than it would have if I let humility guide me into learning how to do it right the first time.

This is all true, and makes perfect sense. But, how do I live it? I can admit intellectually that living with humility is the right thing to do, but humility is not conditioned on intellectual assent. It comes from a deeper place. It comes from allowing heart, spirit and even body to align with a purpose to learning FROM the world and others. It comes from willing to be able to live fully into the "not my will, but thy will be done." It comes from setting down pride and individuality over and over again in the midst of community. It also comes from being willing to take personal responsibility for the authority given to me in the many roles I fulfill in life-not with pride of place; but with the mind of the servant.

Finally, and perhaps most profoundly, it comes from allowing that MOST of life is beyond me. MOST of life is beyond my control. Now, perhaps, I am ready to start learning how to deal with that challenge. Or perhaps it is going to take some more time...God knows. I don't, at least not yet.

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