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On humility

Humility is simple, it’s whole, it’s insignificant in the eyes of the modern world. It’s lacking in need of most anything. It comes from trusting the cycles of suffering and delight. It comes from awareness created through disciplined focus. In this yoga community life, it comes from the practice of the 8 limb path of classical yoga, what some call forest yoga. Here in Carrboro, we do it not only in the forest, but in modern daily life. 

The attempts toward doing it in daily life doubles down on the risk of arrogance and the reward of humility every day. 


Naturally, we are focused on goals. Good thing yoga asks us to go beyond what is natural to our bodies/minds. So in the beginning, we might set a “goal” to embody humility. So how would one go about that? How does doing a skillful yoga pose create humility rather than arrogance? Maybe it’s all just a part of the process. 


Maybe you have to realize how arrogant you can be, the powers we all actually hold latent within, before you can realize the extent of the need for your own blossoming humility. In order to seek humility, you almost have to embody a confidence. We have to understand our power before we can go giving it all up. It’s human nature. 


So is arrogance and power actually a gaining of ground? Could it be the impetus to surrender it all and lay it all down? I’ve never heard of anyone trying to give up power that they never had to begin with. 


The 30th Sutra of Samadhi Pada (1st book of the yoga sutras of patanjali) discusses gaining ground and losing ground in the practice of yoga. A student asked me about losing and gaining ground recently and asked it in the context of the asana practice. 


After 12 years of practicing strenuous skillful yoga asana daily, I don’t necessarily consider the asana practice a place to measure growth as much as I used to. The asana practice shifts over time — where the shapes of the poses were once considered measurements of gaining ground for me — that’s not exactly the case anymore. Once you become adept at something, you simply continue to focus on fine tuning your skills. 


It’s just like any endeavor anyone puts effort into — in the beginning you grow and learn and see big things happen quickly. You get a charge over those big gains and it feels good. But those sensations of glory lose their value eventually. And over time, big physical gains are lessened and it’s the little things that make the difference. This is about the time when people lose their focus and get bored. Right when they begin to gain ground in holding some power. Right when they have the opportunity to gain some humility from something deep and challenging. 


At some point in the practice (or in anything you work toward), you plateau, and the fine tuning becomes more fine until the edges are smooth and the work is to stay the course of fine tuning and smoothing around the edges. This smoothing is a never-ending process, and happens so much over the course of years that the ground gained through the smoothed-out edges of the body really becomes more the smoothed-out mind and emotional body. 

After all, the issues ARE the tissues. 


So unless you stop practicing strenuous asana every day, you’re not going to lose ground in your strenuous asana practice. But if you’re seeking more than the superficial gains that the poses provide, then sticking with it on a deeper level will inevitably settle the restless body, which inevitably, with dedication and focus, will also settle the restless mind. 


If you’re doing it just for exercise, you’ll eventually wear your body/mind out and you’ll quit.  I’ve seen it happen a number of times, and it used to baffle me. How in the world can someone go to an incredibly focused and energetically powerful place in their asana practice for 5, 10, 15 years, and then just stop? 


For the same reason that someone can play a musical instrument every day and then stop, or be in a relationship and then just stop. Instead of gaining ground in embodying humility when the practice gets hard, people quit instead. Or they stop for weeks or months, or a year. It’s a lack of focus more than anything. 


But for the yogi, when the going gets tough, the yogi is just getting started in the realm of working with the developed tools of humility and clarity.


See, when our individual preferences or emotions get in our way, it is a key reveal of a lack of humility, an adherence to our unique perspective, and therefore a lacking in a higher perspective that offers humility and clarity. And so this is how we sabotage ourselves through a loss of focus on the big picture. 


It’s always interesting when I hear about people seeking humility without trying to humiliate themselves: a very significant focusing activity. Without testing limits, without knowing where the point of resistance even is, we cannot know our own power, and therefore we can never be humble enough to surrender it over. Quitting when it gets hard is the least humble thing that can be done, but it’s the nature of the human mind to do it. And we’re all subject to our humanness. 


If we are seeking humility, the first step is to recognize our insignificance by comparison to the larger picture. The Dalai Lama suggests that each person visit a place he’s never been before once a year. Why? Not for the enjoyment of the ego…but for a higher perspective…to embody the realization that every person thinks uniquely, every set of eyes sees something different, and the more we realize that, the less emphasis we put on our own unique perspective. The more emphasis we put on the limitless perspectives that exist, and therefore the lack of importance of any one perspective, including our own.


For me personally, it always comes down to this feeling of insignificance. Looking at the ocean, looking at the starry sky, looking at a canyon or a mountain, looking into the eyes of an old soul…these things remind me constantly of how insignificant my little life and my little world is. Additionally, it reminds me of how unimportant I am to the grand scheme of things.

This world was here for millions of years before I got here, and it will probably be here for millions of years after I leave this place.


In this short time that I am here, I will have thought that my life should have significance a good bit of the time, and I will have thought many times that I’m allowing my hands to be used by the divine. But then I remember that the divine certainly doesn’t need me to be able to do its thing. And the only thing that keeps me honest in that understanding is the embodied humility that comes from the asana, pranayama and meditation practices.

 

The ground that I’ve gained over the years isn’t a better 4th series. It’s not the health I’ve gained. It’s not in the success I’ve found. It’s not the wonderful relationships I’ve developed. It’s not the wealth of love and light I’ve found in my life. It’s the clarity of humility that I find little pieces of every day through contemplating the insignificance of everything I am and everything I do. 


And as far as I can tell, holding myself accountable is a commitment to using my whole body to prove my own insignificance every day. The less significant I am, the more clarity and vantage point from a higher perspective I gain. A higher perspective in the realm of Truth and Light and Love.

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