Empowered Humility

"Tubwayhun l'makikhe d'hinnon nertun arha."
Jesus Christ, The Beatitudes

Translation: "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth."
Alternate translation: "Blessed are the gentle; they shall inherit the earth."
Alternate Translation #2: "Healthy are those who have softened what is rigid within; they shall receive physical vigor and strength from the universe."

Prayers of the Cosmos: Meditations on the Aramaic Words of Jesus, Translated and with Commentary by Neil Douglas-Klotz, New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990.

"Why is the sea king of a hundred streams?
Because it lies below them.
Therefore it is the king of a hundred streams.
If the sage would guide the people, he must serve with humility.
If he would lead them, he must follow behind."

Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching

Humility is an important virtue, and one that is easily misunderstood. Jesus appears to have talked about it in several different contexts, including in The Beatitudes. How many of us have thought "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth? How could that work?" In English, meek which is generally synonymous with humble, has meanings that include the connotation of lacking assertiveness, submissive, timid, even embarrassed out of a sense of inadequacy. It's hard to find the virtue there. Beyond that, Jesus and his Post-Pentecost Apostles were hardly timid, so this can't be the flavor of meekness Jesus was referring to.

Part of the difficulty in understanding this beatitude may be the translation into English from a Greek translation of Jesus' Aramaic speech. Neil Douglas-Klotz writes:

L'makikhe could be translated as "the meek" (as was done from the Greek), but the Aramaic would say "gentle" or "humble." Behind these words, the old roots carry the meaning of one who has softened that which is unnaturally hard within, who has submitted or surrendered to God, or who has liquified rigidities, heaviness (especially moral heaviness), and the interior pain of repressed desires."
So in this sense, a person who is virtuously humble or meek might be one who has loosened up, given up rigid thinking, and has put aside personal glorification to live in harmony with the universe. This sounds like the image of the Taoist sage. Lao Tsu said,
"Surrender yourself humbly; then you can be trusted to care for all things.
Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things."
One might say that humility is not highly valued in Western culture. It rarely is in male dominated warrior cultures, which has been the European norm for the past 3000 or so years. The humble person is not generally recognized as successful in our society. For instance, when was the last time you heard a successful general or politician express self doubt? Of course they do doubt themselves--probably a lot in some cases, but they would never do it in public. The political consequences would be undesirable.

Yet, we ordinary folk tend to be filled with self doubt. We get enough criticism along the way that we fall into habits of subservience, unassertiveness, self abasement. We hide our lantern under a basket, something the great advocate of meekness told us not to do. Some of us acquire the weak side of humility that prevents us from shining forth. We repress our true desires, because we feel unworthy of their fulfillment.

As our friend Jeanie Marshall said recently, self doubt can be a useful tool for reality testing, but it is debilitating as a place of residence. You can go there, but don't stay long. It can be useful to think of doubt as a momentary friend. You can check in, get the information you need, and check out. If you habitually hang out in self doubt and false humility, you can easily become depressed and immobilized.

Instead of crippling self doubt, we suggest that humility has to do with putting aside false pride and false agendas, and finding a flexible position that attunes to the natural way of things. One can achieve great things and stay humble by letting loose of the need for acclaim. One can be a leader by finding a talent for service. You can do great deeds and know that the greatness flows through you, but does not belong to you. For all that you have has come from somewhere else. We attain an empowered humility when we realize that in this bounteous world all possession is impermanent, all capability is temporary. 


 Ask yourself these questions:

When complimented, do you tend to discount the compliment?

Is it possible you could accept the praise and remain free of excessive pride?

How much do you require the praise of others to feel valuable?

How else could you know your worth?

Where does your sense of worth come from?

Is it from inside you?

Is it from other people's opinions of you?

Do you have a sense of your value in the eyes of God?

Do you have a sense of your place in creation?

Do you realize what a marvelous and powerful being you are?

Do you realize that we all are?

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be! You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

 Marianne Williamson (Often attributed to Nelson Mandela)

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© 2002 Tom Barrett