Everyone agrees that humility is a virtue. But no one really wants it. We all either redefine and belittle it as a kind of lightweight modesty or deride it as belonging to losers. True humility, though, requires great courage, because it consists in surrendering our separateness completely to God.
In your life, if God is the doer, then you are world class. Everyone wants to think of themselves and to be seen as a big deal one way or another. The shrunken individual is so determined to be bigger than it truly is. It wants to shrink everyone smaller than its size.
Baba used to tell a story of the mathematician Ram Tirtha. One day, Tirtha drew a horizontal line on the chalkboard and said to his students, “How do you make this line shorter without touching it?” When no one could answer, he drew a longer line underneath the first and said, “Instead of erasing another’s line, we should make our own line longer.”
The only true way to make your own line longer is to realign yourself with God. Then, and only then, can the shrunken self be put in its place. I don’t care if a person is a “nobody”, or not “world class” in some generally accepted way. Anyone’s line is world class when they allow God to draw it. Think of the Desert Fathers: their lives were stripped to utter simplicity, and yet truly world class. They were humble and harmonious because the Desert Fathers were working to surrender to God.
Yet precious few people genuinely want to commit and contribute in this way. People remain selfish and prideful; their real priority is holding onto their idea of their lives. Baba used to say, “What are you so proud of?” When we are so prideful, there is no real care for others—no one else exists for us except to support our narrative.
When we pridefully hold onto our identification with the shrunken self, we cannot empathize. Empathy is actually feeling what others feel—not imagining it or resonating with it, but genuinely feeling it. If we resonate with someone’s feelings, we are only feeling our own vibration, not theirs. To empathize we turn inward and humbly let go of our individuality, being willingly empty so as to literally feel what others feel. It has nothing to do with our individuality, so there is nothing to be proud of. When we are in the groundwater instead of isolated in our separateness, we empathize and contribute to the greater good of the world from the small to the large, from the simple to the grand.
What we bring to the table of life reveals where we are in relation to God. God is everywhere—not just in some places, not just in some activities. God should always be the doer, and we should not interfere, believing we are of equal status. Our job is to practice, listen, and then implement appropriately. We have to let our vehicles operate literally the way God wants them to.
The sages of all traditions tell us this:
In brief, do everything as though in the presence of God and so, in whatever you do, you need never allow your conscience to wound and denounce you, for not having done your work well.
(St. Symeon, Philokalia p. 156)
When the Son of Heaven is enthroned
And the Three Ministries installed,
Presenting jade discs
And four-horse chariots
Cannot compare to sitting still
And offering the Tao.
(Tao Te Ching, trans. Addiss and Lombardo, verse 62)
If we were able to forget our own existence, we would find Him who is the source of our existence and at the same time we would see that we do not exist at all.
(The Letters of Shaykh ad-Darqawi, trans. Lings, p. 18)
Achieving true humility is hard work. But when we are humble, our action is then accomplished and informed by Love. We empathize, listen for right direction, and then proceed, all the while having given up the fruits of our labor. Service and non-action are one and the same when we surrender to God. We are then always acting and serving from a place of non-attachment, where there is no separateness, no individuality.
It isn’t as though I live a spectacular life. I live a simple life, but God is here. I am not asking you to change what you do, whether privately or professionally. I am asking you to let God be the one running your life. Don’t change your life; just humbly change who runs your life.
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