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Humility as a Way of Life


We offer this chapter from our 2006 book The Power of Humility: Choosing peace over conflict in relationships because we believe that humility is the most important ingredient for a smooth spiritual awakening. We define humility as having the openness and willingness to learn more about self, others and the God of our understanding.  The opposite of humility is arrogance or what we define as “Spiritual bypass.” In a spiritual bypass we try to bypass our needed psychological and emotional work  and “Hang out with God.” But sooner or later this doesn’t work and we have to “get down” and finish our unfinished business. Here in this chapter we cover the characteristics and traits of humility and by breaking it down it may become easier to grasp. These traits will also help when looking for a teacher or therapist. Truly spiritual people are humble – and by this we do not mean being a doormat. We mean people who demonstrate these traits, especially being “nobody special” and the wonderful spiritual characteristic of “don’t know.” This text is excerpted from Chapter 2.


Wishing you the best on your Spiritual Journey,

Charles and Barbara Whitfield

Jyoti and Russell Park


Taken from its origin humus, meaning “earthly”, the general dictionary definition of humble is two fold: 1) not proud or arrogant; modest, and 2) meek; submissive; low in rank or conditions (Random House 1980, Oxford 1971). It is in part on this first definition that we have focused and expanded.


We believe there are at least 12 key characteristics of humility. These include 1) openness, 2) an attitude of “don’t know,” 3) curiosity, 4) innocence, 5) a child-like nature, 6) spontaneity, 7) spirituality, 8) tolerance, 9) patience, 10) integrity, 11) detachment, and 12) letting go – all of which lead to inner peace. Like the hours on a clock, each of these is an important part of the power of humility (see figure 1)


Figure 1. 12 Characteristics of Humility


Early in this book we began to define humility as being open to learning more about our self, others, and God. This openness is perhaps its most basic and key characteristic. Without being open to what is I may miss countless chances to learn, experience and grow. When we have humility there is no such thing as failure. Each act or experience has something to teach us even if it doesn’t turn out the way we planned.

“Don’t Know”

The Third Chinese Patriarchof Zen, Seng Ts’an, wrote: “The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart. If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything.” [1]


Having an attitude of not knowing the answer to every question or conflict I encounter gives me the chance to let go of always needing to come up with an answer or even be right, which may block my ability to experience inner peace and serenity. This “don’t know” stance is a basic and effective tenet of Buddhist philosophy and practice. By not knowing, I expand my possibilities. I don’t limit myself. And I thereby have a greater chance to avoid conflict in or outside of triangles.


A Course inMiracles says: “Let us be still an instant, and forget all things we ever learned, all thoughts we had and every preconception that we hold of what things mean and what their purpose is. Let us remember not our own ideas of what the world is for. We do not know. Let every image held of everyone be loosened from our minds and swept away.” It continues, “Be innocent of judgment, unaware of any thoughts of evil or of good that ever crossed your mind of anything.” (648t, 12)


Have you ever thought you already knew the truth about someone or something and found out later that you were wrong? Having humility, including openness to learning more, an attitude of “don’t know,” and being curious about people, places and things, can help us to work through conflicts, including when we find ourself caught in the pain of a Level 1 triangle (see Figure 2, below). Curiosity drives us to see the authenticity of other people. Instead of the old habit from Level 1 of projecting on to others our conflicts and other unfinished business, our curiosity opens us to acceptance instead of prejudice and rejection.


Figure 2. Triangles


As we look at newborn infants we are reminded that we are innocent at our core. If God made us, and we are each a part of God, how can we also be sinners (as some religions claim)? A Course in Miracles suggests that we are not. Rather than being born in “original sin”, the Course says that we are born innocent. We are already and eternally innocent.


While the Course describes various aspects of innocence, it defines it as being the same as having Christ’s vision, which it also calls true perception and right-mindedness.  Innocence means that we never see what does not exist (i.e., the ego and its world), and always see what does (God and God’s real world). At the core of our being what we are innocent about or unaware of is our ego and its world of pain. 


After reading parts of the Course, we (BW & CW) realized that upon entering the dream of the ego’s world, we unknowingly caused our own pain. We were and are innocent, and were simply in a dream. The lion and the lamb lying down together symbolize that strength and innocence are not in conflict, but naturally live in peace. A pure mind knows that innocence is strength. We enter into our innocence each time that we co-create peace with another with whom we may be in conflict.


The romantic poets, especially William Blake, spoke often of our innocence. In his long poem “Songs of Innocence and Experience”, Blake said that we are innocent and that we can contact our innocence through the child within us (Blake 1794).  In Workbook lesson 182 the Course says “… there is a Child in you who seeks his Father’s house…. This childhood is eternal, with an innocence that will endure forever.” (339w, 4:3-4) To us, this is one of the most moving of the Course’s 365 workbook lessons.


The Course says that whenever we are in conflict we are in our ego, projecting sin, guilt and shame onto the person(s) with whom we are in conflict. If we see sin and badness in another we lose the peace of our innocence. If we see any error in them and attack them for it, we hurt ourselves. (41t, 7:1) It says that “You cannot know your brother when you attack him. …You are making him a stranger by mis-perceiving him, and so you cannot know him.” (41t, 7:4)   


Being spontaneous means living as our real self in this moment of now. Our real self only exists in the eternal now. As soon as we honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with more ease and joy. Every time we let our selves go into the past (usually from guilt or shame) or project into the future (usually from fear), we are energizing our ego, which usually causes us conflict and pain. We know we are in our ego when we are not at peace. In our True Self we not only experience stillness and peace, but also joy and intense aliveness. (Tolle E1999)


Spirituality is about our relationship with self, others and the God of our understanding. And, it is much more. Whereas religion takes us by the hand and we follow the usually preordained path of those who have gone before us – spirituality is about our own personal path. We do it our own way and in our own time. We form an experiential bond with self, others and God that we may or may not find in religion.  


By breaking new ground our journey becomes our goal. This is what the Course calls, “The Journey without Distance.” It says: “The Journey to God is merely the reawakening of the Knowledge of where you are always, and what you are forever. It is a journey without distance to a goal that has never changed.” (ACIM)


Our goal in living our journey is to surrender, including surrendering to the moment we are in. Surrender is not weakness. It is strong. A  person who has surrendered has spiritual power. In this surrender, there are no longer problems. There are only situations. And, if we don’t like the situation we can choose again. (ACIM; Tolle 1999)  As part of humility, spirituality leads to detaching from or letting go of our numerous attachments, resulting in inner peace.


Tolerance involves the capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs, preferences or practices of our self, others and God. The Buddhist teacher Cheri Huber says, “Suffering is resisting what is.”  If a situation is intolerable and we suffer from it, we have three options 1) remove ourselves from the situation, 2) change it or 3) accept it as it is (Tolle 1999).


We can be pushed by our pain and suffering or pulled by our spiritual vision.


Patience may be one of our hardest lessons to attain. When we are in our ego, we want it right now. Our ego has no patience and as such may lead us to believe we are being mistreated, empty, bored or otherwise in pain.  It’s almost humorous to realize the spectrum of emotions we experience when we find our selves stuck in our ego. All we need do is slide over to patience and if we struggle with patience – practice tolerance in our struggle. 


An effective way out of pain from being in conflict with a person, place or thing is to use prayer. When we are not at peace, we can remember that we are in our ego. In our prayer we simply ask for help and then surrender to the God of our understanding. On a humorous note, we can consider the prayer for patience: “Lord give me patience, and give it to me Now!”


Humility breeds integrity and vise versa. They support and feed one another in a positive way. Integrity means wholeness. Integrity is one of the most important and oft-cited of virtue terms. It is also puzzling. For example, while it is sometimes used instead of ‘moral,’ we also at times distinguish acting morally from acting with integrity. We believe that humility leads to integrity. And, people with true integrity have humility at their base and actions.


What a conflicted world may need now is integrity – in ourselves, in our relationships and in our private and political systems. The more we incorporate humility in our interaction and intra-actions (i.e., our inner life), the more we move up the Four Levels that we describe in this book, and the more integrity becomes an active part of our being. Why? Because integrity means we are whole, we are working from our authentic self, who God made us to be, and at the same time we are wholely taking in the people and the world around us.


Detachment involves withdrawing our emotional attachment to a person, place, thing or outcome of any situation -- including  our conflicts. It involves releasing our attachment or connection. Detachment is sometimes mistakenly interpreted to mean “not care about,” but the word actually means “to separate from.” It requires a willingness to let go and allow others to take responsibility for their own lives. This is especially difficult for the “rescuer” in a Level 1 triangle, (explained in Chapter 4) who feels driven to jump in and help or “fix” the “victim’s” plight. If the rescuer does not learn to detach, they often become the victim.          


Detachment is a keystone skill in recovery for members of the Twelve Step fellowship of Al-Anon. Many of the principles of Buddhism and related paths illustrate similarities with Al-Anon’s view of detachment. The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism include: 1) Life involves suffering; 2) Attachment, desire, selfish craving or clinging of our ego causes our suffering; 3) Detachment is the cure for suffering; 4) Detachment can follow an Eightfold Path (Smith 1957). This Eight Fold Path includes Right Association (i.e., with people who have positive attitudes and clarity). It also involves several key principles and spiritual practices that embrace integrity and meditation.[2]


* Modified from Naranjo 1983; 1994

In summary, expanding upon the work of Naranjo, we see at least six principle features of detachment. From a lower self-perspective, these include non-resistance, non-attachment and mindfulness. From a Higher Self perspective, these include God-Mindedness and Remembering, Loving, and Letting Go. (See Figure 2.1, above.)

Letting go  

Letting go is both a process and an event. When we can remember, it is also often a series of continuous events. We work in our recovery process to let go of our accumulated baggage from our past traumas, including how our ego has beaten us up. Letting go is in large part about letting go of our ego. When we let go of our ego, being humble becomes easier.  


When we are whole, when we are living as our True Selves, we can help the people we love by being present with them, and loving them unconditionally. But we can’t fix anyone. We surrender our ego’s need to control this reality we share with our loved ones and move into the larger Reality, where our inner life and the Light of unconditional love work together. As we move into balance, our relationships move into balance.


As we give everyone around us the space to be who they are, which also involves unconditional love, we give ourselves the same space. One of the rules of the Universe becomes so obvious: We treat others as we want to be treated and then everything we give out comes back. 

Being Humble

Having summarized these twelve characteristics above, we will now describe some further principles of humility in recovery and in life. 


Gaining humility is a major milestone in recovery. It usually signifies a life transformation, in that the person flows more with life, functions better, and tends to be at a lower risk of falling back into Level 1 functioning and pain. For all concerned the term “humble” is thus positive and is a great strength, and is not generally viewed as a weakness. 


As we let go and watch our relationships transform, transcend or dissolve – we not only recognize all the characteristics above playing out in us and our loved ones – gratitude moves in and possibly even takes over as an underlying continual attitude or mood. 


When the stressful pressure of conflicted and painful relationships is released --something needs to take its place. (The Universe seems to fill in a vacuum) And, that something that takes it’s place is peace and gratitude. We feel better. Our ego isn’t running our inner life anymore. Our inner life is now more of our Sacred Person (See the Map of the Self, below) 


Being “Nobody Special”

“The story of life, of humanity, of the universe, is vast in terms of what we know, or what we can ever understand. Death comes, like birth, and there is nothing we can do about it. Strutting and fretting our brief hour upon the stage of life is really quite meaningless. In stepping back and seeing the play from the perspective of one's true nature, compassion arises for all. Humility becomes one's natural clothing. There is no one, no person, no doer, no diver, yet all is blissful when the mind with all its knowledge, memory and emotional residues stands back and lets go its hold on life.” (Whenary R 2005)


In the process of humility we work through a cycle early in our life from becoming ego-attached or “somebody special,” to then becoming ego-detached or “nobody special.” Ram Dass and Levine (1976) said “We are in training to be nobody special. It is in that nobody – special-ness that we can be anybody. The fatigue, the neurosis, the anxiety, the fear, all come from identifying with the somebody-ness. But you have to start somewhere. It does seem that you have to be somebody before you can be nobody. If you started out being nobody at the beginning of this incarnation, you probably wouldn’t have made it this far… It’s that force of somebody-ness that develops the social and physical survival mechanisms. It’s only now, having evolved to this point that we learn to put that somebody-ness, that whole survival kit, which we called the ego, into perspective. 


“At first you really ‘think’ you’ve lost something. It’s a while before you can appreciate the peace that comes from the simplicity of no-mind, of just emptiness, of not having to be somebody all the time. … You spent the first half of your life becoming somebody. Now you can work on becoming nobody, which is really somebody. For when you become nobody there is no tension, no pretense, no one trying to be anyone or anything, and the natural state of the mind shines through unobstructed – the natural state of the mind is pure love, … pure awareness. Can you imagine when you become that place you’ve only touched through your meditations? … You’ve cleared away all of the mind trips that kept you being who you thought you were. … You experience the exquisiteness of being in love with everybody and not having to do anything about it. Because you’ve developed compassion. The compassion is to let people be as they need to be without coming on to them. The only time you come on to people is when they’re actions are limiting the opportunities for other human beings to be free.” (Ram Dass & Levine, 1976)


In a society where everybody has to be somebody special, what a joy it can be to walk along and be nobody special. It is freeing, peaceful and serene. We learn to listen and hear. And where we are when we are nobody special is in the heart of our True Self. Twelve Step fellowships also suggest being nobody special by their principle of anonymity. Their Twelfth Tradition says, “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.” 


At the beginning of this chapter we noted 12 key characteristics of humility. These include 1) openness, 2) an attitude of “don’t know,” 3) curiosity, 4) innocence, 5) a child-like nature, 6) spontaneity, 7) Spirituality, 8) tolerance, 9) patience, 10) integrity, 11) detachment, and 12) letting go – all of which lead to inner peace. Most of these are important components in the process of becoming and being nobody special, which is also a hallmark of humility.



© 2006 Whitfield C, Whitfield B, Jyoti, Russell Park


Charles Whitfield and his wife, Barbara Harris Whitfield, Jyoti and her husband Russell Park are board members of the Kundalini Research Network.  



[1] Translation by Richard B. Clarke of the HSIN HSIN MING


[2] The Eightfold Path of Buddhism includes: 1) right knowledge (learning the truths and the path), 2) right aspiration, 3) right speech (language, honesty, clarity & positivity), 4) right behavior, 5) right livelihood, 6) right effort, 7) right mindfulness, 8) meditation.

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