Choosing Humility

"When you think everything is someone else's fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy." -His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Six years ago, I attended my first 10-day silent meditation retreat. Sitting on a cushion on the floor for more than 10 hours a day was both mentally challenging and physically excruciating, so when I saw that others were allowed to sit with their backs against the wall, I asked to do the same. Very kindly, the course manager (the one person we were allowed to talk to) said that I would have to ask the teacher. Not wanting to make a fuss, I chose instead to tough it out and stay where I was.

Later in the evening, I was surprised and relieved when the course manager came to me and said the teacher would allow me to sit against the wall during the evening discourse. 

When the discourse was over, I remained in my more comfortable spot against the wall. But as we prepared for the final meditation of the evening, the course manager came over to me again and said I did not have the teacher's permission to stay where I was. Embarrassed, because now I was holding up the evening meditation, I asked if I could speak to the teacher. 

With permission granted, I went to the front of the room where the teacher was sitting on a raised platform, at eye level as I was standing. I began to speak and she pointed to a spot on the floor, indicating that I was to sit before making my request. I could feel the blood rushing to my face as the outrage of humiliation boiled within me but I sat obediently on the floor, made my request, and was eventually allowed to go back to my cushion at the wall.

Now, sitting on my cushion in a room full of peaceful meditators, I was literally burning with anger, indignation, self-righteousness, embarrassment, humiliation, and everything else that goes with being "put in my place." But the longer I sat, the more I realized that this was why I was sitting, this was why anyone would choose to spend 10 days in silent meditation, this was what I was here to learn. I had to let go of my ego. And inwardly I began to laugh at myself.

All of my life I had deeply valued autonomy and independence--to a fault. After all, I'm an American! Nobody's going to tell ME what to do! Now, as I sat laughing at myself on my cushion, I realized that what I was really seeking was true liberation; the kind of liberation that comes with realizing you can always be free on the inside, free to choose humility over pride, free to choose peace instead of anger, free to choose love rather than hate. 

"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 
 who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited, 
 but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, 
   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross." -St. Paul (Philippians 2:3-8)