Humble, humble, humble: I know that I have the same brain, the same muscled heart, as a Jesus or a Ghandi, and I am not such a one. I’m not such a one even as my neighbor, who seems to have a reserve of patience wider than the Mojave desert in her small, sixty eight year old frame. She tends to her roses. She tends to her mother, who is ninety four, blind, nearly deaf, losing her memories. Her mother has demanded to be moved to a different nursing home. Her mother demands a lot of things. The roses are gorgeous, fleshier and more full in the branch, the leaf, the stalk, than anything else I’ve seen in town. She hands one to me. She brings others to her mother.
She admits that she struggled with her impatience. But out of some silent, private, hourly attending to change, her impatience is a thing no one else sees, no one would really believe is there. She beams when she speaks of her mom. She moves lightly as she shuffles the bills and doctor’s records that come under her care. It isn’t that she’s stoic: she is joyful.
“Well,” she said one day, “I got sick of being impatient with her, with waiting for her to make up her mind about everything from puddings to where she was going to live. And I started to wonder just who the heck I was. Here is this poor woman, suffering, and all I could think about was getting out of her room and back home. To where I had all sorts of my own unmade up mind things, but I at least had the ability to control more of my life”. Somehow, she was able to see her habitual reactions and to let go. At least, to not indulge them.
I’ve met a man, paralyzed from the neck down since a teen. He is paralyzed: there is no nervous connection into his limbs. But this man has made himself a yoga teacher. By some process – that same process of hourly attending – he has found a way to move his body into various poses. Impossible. Stunning. True.
And I think of the Benedictines and Buddhists I know, the ones who have taken full vows of celibacy, selflessness, devotion. At first, those vows appeared to me freakish, frightening, extreme. But it has been those very people who demonstrate the full power of attending, of love, and of sensuality. It is easy to dismiss such people as abnormal and possibly mentally ill. To believe they must not have the same reasons to anger, or jealousy, or impatience that the rest of us do. But with time spent with them, it becomes clear that they know anger, and pride, and lust just as much as I do. But they have cultivated defects or failings into stunning qualities of compassion, dedication, honest to god difference in the world. They reached a point of willingness to be different, and humbled themselves enough to be changed.
Why should I say that? Because they first became aware, full well aware, of what they were doing and how it harmed them, harmed others. And they then asked it to be removed, knowing they couldn’t budge it, they were powerless, it ran too deep, they needed help. “I can’t wish away my sexuality,” said a Sister. Humility, step seven, is taking the simple, humbling actions that allow for change. Biting the tongue. Groaning inwardly, rather than outwardly. Rerouting desire into patience. Being able to sit with anxiety, rather than eat. Asking for help. Knowing that great works, of life or of art, do not burst from the head like Athena, full grown and brazen; there are thousands of hours of trash, of mistakes, of deletions, of frustrations. Humility is the willingness to log thousands of small efforts in reverence for the whole.
We cannot control ourselves, our minds, our fortunes, our bodies. Influence, yes. Shape, certainly. But the hardware is universal. Again, and again, and again, my irritation with others crops up. My longing for different things. Not necessarily high and lofty and philosophical things, either. Reading some yogic meditation psychological something or other that aimed to explain what, exactly, meditation does, I was impressed with the scientific medical opinion that the urges around sex, food, sleep, and esteem are the toughest there be. Sex. Food. Sleep. And Esteem.