Be Careful What You Ask For: Humiliation Transmuted into Humility Frees and Catalyzes
by Pamela Boyce Simms
i often express my deep gratitude for the opportunity to take part with others in the Quaker Pathways Forward, and the Inner Landscapes, Activists’ Communities-of-practice. i am deeply grateful as i compose this particular post that i am a student on this path.
Part of my daily practice is to express with focused intentionality, the aspiration to be humble. i ask for opportunities to practice, even though i know, both from personal experience and through study of many spiritual traditions, that true humility is attained through humiliation successfully navigated. Well, i can gratefully say that i got precisely the humiliation i asked for this week during the second meeting of a newly formed community-of-practice small group.
To humiliate is to induce a deeply painful and destructive emotional state of shame and the experience of being degraded in the eyes of others. It ranks very high among people’s fears. The community-of-practice group had begun to wade into the shallows of fear exploration this past week. This can stir up all manner of discomfort.
My thought has long been that if we can tolerate and abide the metaphorical stripping naked which is experienced in the crucible of humiliation and hold it in a healthy way, we’ll have nothing else to loose. Every other emotional tribulation will comparatively be a piece of cake.
As we’ve discussed in several community-of-practice conversations, shame generated from humiliation is THE heaviest, most unctuous emotional sheathe to peel off. If we can self-observe and deliberately choose not to succumb to fear and/or self-doubt when shaming and humiliation appear on the horizon, we’ll be able to successfully face any other test that comes down the pike. As always, the test is much less important than the choices we make about how we respond to it.
As per Pope Francis’ homily a few weeks ago, “Humility is not to walk calmly, perhaps with one’s head down. This is not humility. That is fake, ready-to-wear humility which neither saves or guards the heart. It’s good for us to know that there is no humility without humiliation and if you’re not able to tolerate, to carry humiliation on your shoulders, you’re not truly humble. You pretend you are, but you’re not.”
In fact, those who stand in their truth, determined to persevere through the work of self-transformation (perhaps flanked by a resourceful being from tray #6 :-), often deliberately invite the stripping action of humiliation to intentionally forge humility. The story below is one of my favorites:
The Story of Geshe Ben
A teacher -always a student- named Ben was determined to free himself from the prison of his own thought and habit patterns. He set the clear intention to rid himself of these self-imposed limitations. Ben was an intense, focused, no nonsense person who put himself through the rigors of training as he dealt with his own baggage.
One day he was invited to a patron’s house for a midday meal because he got all of his food through begging. He ate the meal, the patrons retired to another room, and he was left alone in the room where a massive bag of roasted barley flour sat open in the corner. Ben was carrying a brown leather bag in which he kept barley flour which was actually his main, staple source of food.
Without even thinking about it he reflexively dipped his cup into the flour bag and began to put some into his leather bag. As he did this, he suddenly and clearly saw into himself as he stood there. He painfully but gratefully witnessed his own habit energy in action in the clear light of day and stopped himself in his tracks, —mid-action.
He then started screaming at the top of his lungs, “THIEF…..THIEF…. THIEF. Please come get this thief.” Everyone came rushing back into the room. And there, standing with his hand wrist deep in the flour was Ben inviting his own humiliation in order to halt a habit pattern generated by one of his egoic constructs.
We’ve signaled that we’re ready to “rekindle the fire of [George] Fox.” To do so is to be mindful that early Friends intentionally bore incessant shaming and humiliation. They deliberately walked straight into the fire of the fear-driven status quo, even as they were the fire of their own true selves personified.
Like our activist forebearers, we’ve indicated that we’re willing to do the internal work to transmute whatever scars of humiliation remain in the circuitry, into an abiding humility. We’ve set the wheels in motion. Together we can build trust in community in order to join hands and walk the continuum that spans from voluntary vulnerability on one end, all of the way to the crucible of humiliation (for those who so choose) on the other end. The goal is to reach the deepest self-transformation possible in each moment, in service to the greater good.
Successfully navigating the gauntlet of shaming and humiliation is one of ultimate tests on the path toward breaking through egoic constructs to experience the joy of unity with our true selves.
i therefore express my profound gratitude for my community-of-practice humiliation experience this week which invited me to look more deeply at my habitual patterns. i am enriched by the opportunity to extend love, compassion and appreciation to the beloved shamers whose pain surfaced and bubbled over at the prospect of working with their own fears. This is human. This is understandable. It’s all good. We’re all here to catalyze each other’s growth and evolution. To quote one of the Resourceful Beings on my tray #6, Carl Gustav Jung, “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of others.”
Let’s live into joy together, and respond only with love.
Story of Geshe Ben from Patrul Rinpoche – Words of My Precious Teacher: A Complete Translation of a Classic Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism