(image from "about St Francis")
I was baptised as a baby. I attended Scripture at Primary School, and everyone in my family was married at a church; we were/are a Christian family without the regularity of a devoutly religious grouping. Both my parents believed in God, and I did as a child. I outsourced, what I saw as my innate gifts, to God. In actual fact I saw it as a kind of divine trade-off with God - to "compensate" me for my missing limbs, He gave me talents beyond imagining, the ability to play the piano, a fantastic speller (a skill that has sadly reduced), a natural ability in the water, the skill to draw.....
But was it right to "outsource" by skills as being a divine intervention? Or were these skills just part of me, myself, and (Ego) I?
Keeping on the Christian theme (humility is a HUGE aspect of the Christian faith), I look to St Francis of Assisi, and his understanding of humility and divine gifts from God.
The other day I was watching a documentary on Youtube - How to Live a Simple Life - and Peter Owen Jones, the guy who is trying to live a simple life (and also a minister in the Anglican Church), has based this entire project on the concept of St Francis of Assisi's monastic, simple, quiet day to day life, without materialistic concerns, such as money. One of the pertinent things that pops up in the documentary is Owen Jones' exploration of pride and ego over being humble and accepting of help from others. He says this about St Francis' philosophy - "Giving up money makes you vulnerable, it forces you to swallow your pride and take lessons in humility."
"Swallow your pride and take lessons in humility."
To try to be humble, in this sense, is to really think about the interconnectedness of all things. In this article on Huffington Post - "St Francis on Pride, Humility and Creation" - the author states "God is the source of every good thing, gift, talent, event, experience and so on. We are not the sources of our selves, the originators of our own existence, but beneficiaries of the free and gratuitous love of God."
St Francis of Assisi said that "nothing belongs to you," and from a view of humility or being humble, he is correct. Where we are, right here, right now, is not purely because of ourselves, we are where we are because of the countless influences, events, and relationships that have happened up until this point. Interconnectedness at its most poignant.
I often say to children that I could not have swum at the Paralympics without my parents, family, friends, coaches, teammates, Dr's, psychologists, physiotherapists, etc. I could not have achieved my results at Uni without my family, friends, lecturers, fellow academics, supervisors, technical staff, etc. I couldn't run my business without family, friends, business partners, fellow speakers, schools, teachers, pupils, etc. I realise that I cannot boast, I cannot be proud, without recognising - publicly - that I could not have achieved what I had without all of these other people. In essence, and to bring this discussion full circle, I am recognising that my talent was outsourced to hundreds of other people - just as I believed God gave me the talent to play the piano, so all of these people gave me the skills to swim, academically write, and make speeches.
To be truly humble is to see that you are not alone and in accepting that "nothing belongs to you; you can boast in none of these things." Knowing that you are supported, and also that you support; just as others help you, you help others, even if you don't realise this. This is true interconnectedness and true humility.
(image from Pixabay)
The other week I was working with my two business colleagues, running a workshop for a bunch of (really awesome) Head teachers. At one point in the workshop we were doing some work on character strengths (right up my alley right?!?) and one of the teacher's happened to choose the word "humility" as part of the exercise. At this point I happened to pipe up and mention my 2017 Character Challenge, and how the month of March was all about humility and that I was interested in what people thought it meant.
This guy's response has stuck with me - "I think humility, or to be humble, is to know that you are no better then anyone else, that we are all human and we all make mistakes and have opportunities."
I actually agree with him. I think that when it comes down to it, to be truly humble is to acknowledge, know, and act as though you are not better then anyone else. This doesn't mean that we should strive for stuff, set goals, work hard to achieve our dreams, but it does mean recognising that we all have this right, and just as we have the right to strive, we are also going to experience failure, obstacles, tragedies, sadness, grief...
Humility, or to be humble, is to really feel what it is to be human. To be humble is to recognise ones own weaknesses and limitations, and to accept these, just as we accept our strengths.... but it also means to accept the weaknesses of others, to not judge harshly - as we all feel anger, frustration, fear, and sadness - and if we can feel this, then so do others, and so who are we to judge.
Perhaps then, to show humility is to not judge, not criticise, not fear, but to be open, forgiving, and loving in all of our interactions with people around us. It is in this that we see the idea of interconnectedness and collectivity. In this world of individuality, we are taught to embrace our differences and uniqueness, and whilst to celebrate our differences and uniqueness, we should also look for and love our similarities, for it is here that we see true humility.
(image from Pixabay)
Humility... being humble... hiding a part of yourself (or all of yourself)... withholding information about yourself... giving your ego a break... not celebrating your achievements...
... these are all things I have been thinking about the past two weeks, and I'll be honest I have felt confused. I have been trying so hard to not talk about me or what I have achieved in life, and it feels as though I am going against the grain of my personality. I have never thought that I overly boast about things (and often when I meet people I fail to tell them about my Paralympic experience, unless it somehow comes up), but I do need to talk about events in my life of which I am proud, in fact if I didn't talk about them I would be out of a job. So how can I reconcile my need to speak of my achievements with being humble, quiet, and externally focused?
And so I boasted on Twitter this morning. THIS morning. 14 days into this challenge month of humility and I blatantly boasted, without thinking about it, stopping myself, or questioning my motive. After trying to be conscious not to overly boast (outside of the realms of my job), I failed to mindfully note that I actually didn't have to boast in that moment - this boast wasn't helping anyone other then me.
On reflection I realise that that moment on Twitter was actually an opportunity to listen and serve. And listen and serve I didn't.
Now I am not hitting myself over the head with this, but it made me realise that, for me, being present is the key, and mindfulness the skill to actually embodying these character traits as fully as I can.
And so I boasted on Twitter and I realised that actually I should have listened. Is that actually what being humble is?
When you look at the countless articles and blog posts out there the most common thread about being a humble person is that a humble person listens to others, without thought to self, thought to judgement, and thought to being a hero (in a situation when you might think a person is needing a hero). And all this listening (and accepting and interest and love and genuine responding) all leads to better relationships.
I am trying to listen more, speak less.
When a thought or an interjection jumps to mind I hold that thought and bring it back to the person I am speaking too. Or at least I am trying, and succeeding on some days, failing on others. But it's about the trying isn't it? And just as meditation has become a habit after months and months of meditating daily, shouldn't listening eventually become the default habit in social situations?
And so, as this blog post, "Listening Skills: How humility can be very powerful," states:
"If you can master the skill of listening, you can create change and influence where it otherwise may not happen. Good listening requires the ability to put the focus for the moment on someone else and take yourself out of the equation completely. Set aside your opinions, your advice, your preconceived notions, and your desire to talk about yourself… just listen. Our first inclination when someone comes to talk to us is to try to remedy their situation as quickly as possible. We want to eliminate the uncomfortable negative and turn toward the peaceful positive. But in doing so, we quickly relay the message, “I don’t want to hear what you’re dealing with.” What if, instead, we said, “Tell me more,” and give someone the gift of being heard, of telling us all that’s going on, everything that’s making them feel the way they’re feeling? By allowing someone to talk, to purge even, we tell them we care about them and about what they’re going through."
I am going to stop responding immediately and I am going to try and just listen... more.
(I want to listen to you, tell me something about you in the comments below)
(image from Pixabay)
We have now entered March and I admit, this one of the months I have been kind of dreading ... cause, well, you know, it's all about being humble!! And I work in a job where I have to speak about my Paralympic achievements! I use my achievements to market myself to others, which means in a marketing email, or at a networking event, I have to ... well, speak about myself.
But as much as I am dreading this month - a smidge - I am also more than a little curious about this whole idea of humility and what it means in 2017.
Though I admit that I am already struggling with what humility means to me and to others. Already this month I have spoken often about my achievements, and for some reason this does not fit with my idea of being humble and bringing more humility into my life. I try to balance this out by repeatedly stating to people: I am just like you, if I can do this (Paralympics) then you can too (not the Paralympics, but a huge, big, crazy dream all their own).
So what is it that I want to really explore this month...
I really want to understand, to the deep deep bones of my body, what being truly humble is and how humility can benefit society at large (especially when living in a world where we are encouraged on a daily basis to scream ME ME ME.
To begin, in the most humble of ways however, is to ask you, what is humility to you? Tell me in the comments below.
(image from Pixabay)
We have now finished February. Gone in a snap. And I am now reflecting on how thinking about compassion on a day-to-day basis has affected me. It's been a strange one, I have to be honest.
Strange in the sense that compassion has confused me a little. For all it's strength in word and concept, it is elusive in its enaction - compassion is often thought about and/or felt but is difficult to actualise. So whilst I have been aware of feelings of compassion, in those moments my hands have been tied to ease any suffering, either because there was nothing I could do, someone else was doing more than enough to ease that particular suffering and my helping may not have .... helped, or it's been a case of something awful happening in another country that has affected me and again my hands are tied. I have pondered a lot of potential actions I could take. I have felt the 'feels' intensely. I have been able to take action on my self compassion; but beyond this scope, it's been tough.
How have I tried to be more actively compassionate to others?
I have tried to listen more... and I admit that that in itself has been tough (lot of truths coming out here). I have a tendency to immediately want to compare other people's stories with mine, a case of "oh yeah, I totally get what you're saying because a few years ago this happened to me.....". Instead of just listening and being open to another person's personal (and sometimes tough/tragic/sad) story, I turn the spotlight back onto me. It is through a genuine need to identify with the person... but often, when people are sad, upset, or frustrated, all they want is to be heard. And so I have been trying harder to hear - failed many times - but the trying is there in full force.
I have tried to judge less... I have found this a little easier, and in judging less I am changing my mindset when it comes to things that I don't agree with. I am finding that I am "gossiping" less about people.... okay, I am still talking about people, but it not in a negative way. I am telling people about the good stuff that my friend's and family have done/achieved/doing. It feels so good, and means that I am not making people suffer by negative s%@t at them.
I have tried to understand where people are coming from better. Not as part of this, but something that lines up rather nicely with this action, I meditated using Headspace's "Anxiety" pack. In this pack the aim was to accept (and show compassion) to your own feelings of anxiety, progressing through to recognising that many other people in the world also feel these feelings of anxiety. In this recognition comes understanding, and in the understanding comes compassion. (If you want to work on growing your compassion this Headspace pack is ACE).
How have I tried to be more compassionate to myself?
I have tried to listen more... yes, I have tried to really listen to my body and my mind a lot more. If I am tired I rest, if I am fidgety I do some yoga, if I am feeling gritty/scratchy/icky I have a shower, if I feel hungry I eat, if I don't feel hungry I don't eat... I'm sure you get the picture. By listening in to myself more (and meditation sure helps with this) then you can start to look after yourself better.
I have tried to judge less... as much as I have tried to not judge other people, I have tried not to judge myself. So, if a judgey thought arose about another person, guess what? I haven't judged myself over it, beaten myself up, gotten cranky, etc, I have accepted that that though was there and then just bloody well moved on. It doesn't ease suffering when you cling to negative "stuff."
I have tried to understand my motivations about things, from a compassionate place. It is hard when you see/feel/know your ego has taken over a situation, but instead of getting upset (or too upset), I have tried to step back and take time to think about why my ego reared its ugly head, where has it come from, what does it want, and why does it want that result. This has probably been the toughest part of compassion, self acceptance of the dark side of the self.
To finish of a month of fastness and slowness, I want you to consider how and when you have been compassionate, when you have struggled to be compassionate, and when you have wanted to be but had your hands tied for some reason. Comment below.
"Your Determination is Limitless"
- Elizabeth Wright