Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Humility

I heard one of my students (a retired Methodist minister who's always singing others' praises) say that I had learned humility from working in a church. Whether that's true or not, he got me thinking again about my relationship with humility.

The first time I came smackdab face-to-face with my lack of it was during my Yoga teacher training.

The Ashram was full, as usual, with more than 300 guests from all over the world. The last program of the evening, called Satsang (meaning teachings), always ended with everyone on their knees bowing down in worship. Every one, that is, except for me who - out of fear, stubborness, and perhaps a whole host of other things - would instead sit upright surrounded by a sea Yogi backsides.

I thought the whole process of bowing down before teachers, statues of gurus, and in worship, strange. These were not my Gods. And at the same time I was not the religion-practicing kind and frankly, was afraid of it. Afraid that I might get roped into something that I didn't believe and before long I'd be walking around in a white robe, shaved head, selling flowers at airports.

But my resistance was also as much about humility.

I remembered watching an Asian woman at the Ashram bowing at the feet of one of the Swamis. In my misguided mind, it somehow seemed more appropriate for an Asian female to exhibit humility as their culture, I thought, demeaned the value of women.

For me, humility meant putting myself in a place of vulnerability and weakness. And as I already had plenty of weaknesses, I for one was not going to tack on another during my trip to India.

It seems my Independent American Woman training did not include humility. I thought that to take care of myself in this male-dominated world required me to be independent-thinking, strong, and always watching my back (which can't hardly be done when you're facing the ground).

Nevertheless, during my stay I slowly began to bow during ceremonies, though only halfheartedly. The biggest crack in my superficial thin shell began the night of our graduation. Having passed the exam, we all sat down on the the floor for our celebration meal, which included an unexpected special treat. One-by-one, our meal was served to us by the three Swamis who had been our teachers. They bowed on their knees before each of us and waited on us individually.

I was so filled with emotion that I could barely contain it. Being treated with such humility by my revered teachers taught me in my bones that humility is not so much about strength or weakness, but is more so a recognition of our interconnectedness and respect for the journey.

Independence had kept me secure, but also separate, and in that way it actually encouraged certain weaknesses born of safety.

In Yoga, there is a pose similar to that of bowing in worship that is called Child's pose. It can be done with complete surrendering, head to the floor, relaxing all the muscles in the body, trusting. It's a nice way to remind myself of the beauty, strength, soft nature of humility. I now go there often on the mat.