The more I read books to make sense of my spiritual awakening, the more I find, everywhere, the repeated insistence on putting the ego aside and practice humility.
I’ve long struggled with these notions. So far, my personal beliefs was that one should practice a feeling of equality and respect towards everything and everyone: neither inferior nor superior, but equal in every way.
The story of one Buddhist monk got me thinking. In his experience, he narrates how his master asked him, being the most “junior” monk in the shrine, to bow to all other monks. At first, it felt weird, especially since he was in his 50s and many monks were teenagers which, even if they arrived before him, were no farther down the spiritual road then he was. In fact, he had much more experience with all things spiritual, and many of these teenagers were there because their parents sent them and they had no intention of ever becoming a monk or taking any of the meditation and ritual practices seriously. But then he sort of took a liking towards “bowing” to everything, even his evening dinner, his bed, the toilet seat etc.
This story makes me think that we got it all wrong: practicing humility is just the only way that we can initiate the path towards spiritual awakening and get closer to God. Imagine if God was a painter, and you were one brush stroke inside his painting. Ego and misplaced pride would have you think that you are superior to other brush strokes. At this point, you are stuck in your “human” egotistic self. Indeed, this perception will never get you closer to God. It might get you rich, famous, powerful, and many other things, but it will close all spiritual paths to enlightenment.
Feeling equal to everything may be the ideal, but it is far from our reach. Our ego has been so hyper-active that we stumble into misplaced pride and feeling of being more important than someone/something else the moment we stop paying attention. Try walking down the street and genuinely feel “equal” to a shit in the gutter, a smelly cigarette bud left in the dirt, or any random individual which acts in ways which are offensive to you.
Humility is thus the only way to counter-balance our overly developed sense of ego and misplaced pride. In fact, I came to realize that humans will always have misplaced pride for pride is a feeling reserved to God himself. When God feels proud, it is the same kind of pride that a painter experiences when looking at his painting: a pride which extends to each and every brush stroke, regardless of what it represents (a man, a plant, an animal, a piece of shit, garbage or monster…) In the case of God, it’s even more than that! Pride extends to the painter himself, for there is no painter, there is only the painting, which “paints itself”… So God can feel a pride which encompasses all that he/she/it IS. All of existence, all of the Universe and beyond, past, present and future. That kind of pride is completely out of reach for a human.
Humility, on the other hand, takes us down the right path: acknowledging that we are merely one brush stroke of no lesser importance than any other brush stroke, and especially, that there are no objective ways to assess which brush stroke is more or less important than any other (which explains also why so many esoteric readings talk about the importance of non-judgement).
It also explains the insistence on focusing our attention to the present. The “Power of Now” as Eckhard Tolle’s book underlines. Become a sort of “witness” of each and every present moment, a spectator, without exerting any form of judgement. This is how a painter would examine his paintings as he would paint them one by one: as a spectator, enjoying the “view”.
Ironically, this is why a spiritual awakening can be so overwhelming, bathing in pure love and joy. Practicing humility towards all of Creation opens you the door to the feeling of Ultimate Pride and Joy of the Creator for his Creation (for himself), the kind of Self-Love that is unachievable at our human level, but in which we would gladly stay forever if we could: a true Paradise.
Humility is not a mark of inferiority, it is the signal that we have understood that we are just a part of the Whole, no more no less, and it opens us the door to our spiritual awakening.
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