The metaphoric blood that feeds the soil of the psyche where the Id and the Ego grow.
An airplane manufacturer sales executive was away on business in Asia. He had finished his work for the trip and was passing time for a few days in a city that was new to him. He decided to take a tour of a countryside town and an ancient religious temple. As he was enjoying the interpreters knowledge of the historical aspects of it, he found himself fascinated by a middle aged monk who was separating individual grains of rice with a pair of chopsticks. He asked if he could sit and talk with the gentleman, and he was told that would be fine. The executive sat near the silent monk in his best cross legged fashion, he had had a flash of brilliance, or so he thought. He began speaking to the unflinching figure, and he began to tell his story, it was his fifth step, as suggested in AA’s twelve steps. He sat there speaking for what seemed like an eternity, and when he was done, he thanked his quiet confessionary assistant, apologizing for not speaking the language. “Man, You’re messed up!” said the Monk, “Good start on humility… Berkley ’92,” he finished while smiling knowingly at the man who just stood there embarrassed and shocked at the same time. That was the first time I had heard someone talk about their fifth step. When the step work at the meetings come to that part of recovery the word humility comes up quite a bit. When looking at the definition in the dictionaries available, it is a practice that like the meaning itself, is difficult to encapsulate in words alone. In my story it was also a place to be aware of the balance needed in finding it.
- a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness. “He needs the humility to accept that their way may be better.”
When the subject of the fifth step and humility came up in a recent meeting, my mind went into overdrive; I had so much to say, so much wisdom to pass along. It was at that point I became grateful for the workers that showed up early to fix our water main. I had to go, I had to get out of this meeting fast. “There’s nothing like going to a meeting about humility and hearing all about it,” rang in my head. Those words not only my thoughts alone as I have found out over the years. With my mind in overdrive I knew I was on the wrong plane for this one, I didn’t want to be the guy who gushes about how humble he is…Because I don’t know if I am to be honest. It’s a part of working on yourself that is shared mostly in silence, and it is a cautious step on the journey, sharing mostly through being an example. The pathways to that “low view of one’s importance” can be filled will all matter of weeds and roots left over from old thinking though. The practices to humility start small, they reach back, and the focusing on the present is a key to being on a journey of net positives rather than stall in sands of time. But the message that came back consisted of not the present as much as it did the past.
Focusing in on the present… In recovery I have found that our literature isn’t always of great help in that task. In that aspect it is important to understand definitions of things as they were in the context of their writings, what they meant when they were penned. When I first read the Big Book I wanted to rewrite it almost immediately. Didn’t they know what they were saying in today’s world? I was told it was my first lesson on acceptance, that to read the words was not the only task at hand. The message is still the same, the way it conveys it shouldn’t be an issue then. It was there that I got a different view of my control issues too. According to Oxford Languages, usage of that word humility is at its highest point since the 19th century. As I was looking into the definitions provided, I noticed that one of the words that they suggested as a similar word was ‘meek.’ It is here my interest rose, for that was one of those words too that I believed I knew well when I started my recovery. Yet, over the years, many words have been revealed to have definitions I didn’t know, or know well. The definition of meek I had grown up with, that of being timid, and weak, didn’t hold the same definition as it once did a few millennia ago. That word’s usage is at its lowest levels in modernity, and when it is used that usage is probably considering the Biblical readings. In that context, the Biblical one, meek is not imbued with frailty, and weakness, but with knowledge, and knowing of oneself. This is not a lesson on word usage though, but it does provide an example of how things once thought known well having more definitions, meanings, and emotions, involved than realized.
The same can be said for that part of humility that asks us to adopt a low view of oneself, taking oneself out of an equation to find the humbleness. In finding that low view of one’s importance without guidance can leave the door open to the low self esteem thinking, and destructive thoughts. If I were reading the information provided without any of that guidance, I would say that the instructions were asking me to be a nobody, a nothing. In that aspect I could wallow in pity and think the worst of myself very easily, I could take it to mean that I am nothing of value. That messaging isn’t what the suggestion entails though. It, like the words I wrote of earlier have a lot of definitions that are not always available until the work gets done. The reason this caution came up in my thinking was the revelation that I had not come very far in that self-esteem area, I had not come very far in that self-forgiveness area, the hopelessness was creeping back into the edges so to speak. Seeing the things that break down the better thinking practices, those things that don’t allow them to get a good footing means that my foundation still contained many of those weeds and roots from my old way of life. Whether it be a milestone in recovery, the continued isolation, or the stacking of my pile of life; The things that created this personage, and all of its little pieces, are being laid bare as never before. So the practicing suggested I look into that low self esteem, that lack of self-forgiveness, and all of the other manner of weeds and roots buried beneath the surface work.
Why was my esteem so low, my self worth so unattainable even after all of these years of a better life that I had come to know? Where were the parts that I missed, the work incomplete? Why did the disorders and other aspects of self that I have opened up to examination hold so much power over me still? Where did all this ingrained negative self talk come from? That is where the context of staying in the present, knowing the definitions of things, words, and actions, comes in. In rewriting your history with what you know now, one of the tenets of the program, that suggestion held a flip side in my story. In finding those things that constructed this pile of life, I had to understand the context of who I was when these denigrating thoughts took root, were planted, and what they created in and of themselves. Yes, I had to look at who I was, with what I know now, I also had to accept that I was ignoring the who I was, with what I was, what I felt, and what broken thinking I carried back then as well. In doing so I found a fertile ground for those ill mannered thoughts that still hold my esteem and the present as its hostage. The definition of those past experiences didn’t contain the black and white meanings that are carried throughout life like a word though.
When I was looking back at those things that drove my lack of esteem, I found a participant where I wouldn’t have looked before. In humility of all places, the way we are taught to be humble. The way we avert the pains of arrogance, and acceptance that we use in our daily lives. It wasn’t defined as a bad actor, it was one of those things that everyone just did while I was growing up. It’s one of those things that had helped me learn things as much as anything else, and at the same time planted grains of soil in places I never knew. Those grains of soil, miniscule little pieces of fertile ground that accumulated and fed the weeds of discomfort. Why was I so well versed with taking apart my everything in self speak? Why didn’t some of my better practices work like they should on paper? When I was younger, with a very large family and with them a neighborhood fueled extended family, I was teased quite a bit. It was endemic, the phrase was often repeated that if someone didn’t like someone else, they wouldn’t make fun of them. I was a well liked kid, and I got the teasing for what it was, I wasn’t too sensitive to that end. I dished it out too, developing a sarcasm to go with it, and I thought until very recently, that there wasn’t anything else to it. It wasn’t until a dinner with family on my birthday, where the sarcasm and teasing continued good naturedly, that I saw it. Yes, like a big poof of “What the huh?” I was being my usual glib self, and trying to be funny, with my wife stationed between my brother and myself. She sarcastically asked my brother if she could leave me there?… We all laughed, and I took it good naturedly, but I did notice that just a tiny piece of that comment stuck around. Maybe it’s the continued isolation, or just my time for an epiphany, in that moment I saw the connections to thousands of little grains of feelings like that that have happened over my lifetime. It had a zipper like effect in the way it revealed itself, all the way back to when I was young. I had been keeping a tiny grain of all that teasing as something real, something true, and allowing it to disrupt the other practices I was trying to cultivate.
For every thought about being a good person, I was planting it in a thousand poisonous grains of telling myself I am a bad person. For every good estimable act, and practice, I was plowing it under with bits and pieces of all that teasing, given a bad time, or whatever label it held at that moment. We as a species use teasing in a number of ways, and depending on the context of the moments in life, can be either beneficial, or traumatizing. Teasing is humility’s hammer, it is the great destroyer of egos, and the builder of acceptance. It has an educative value, and as anything else can be overused and even weaponized to invoke shame. It is a means of control, a way to keep the arrogance in check, and societal balance in order. All of that larger stuff is what it is, there is a great deal of research done on it. In my case though, I couldn’t shake it all… With all the examinations of my build, I can see where an overly emotional and distrustful child would take teasing as a personal assault, or carry the grains of it throughout a lifetime. Looking back, I didn’t take it as it was meant to be taken much of the time. Yes, it was a form of acceptance used to endear and educate my rampant thoughts and behaviors, it was also so prevalent that it became a barrage to shield myself from. The beginnings of a perfectionist mindset probably originated about this time too, as to decrease the teasing, or ability to do so. This insight isn’t one that brings resentments though, it was just a part of what happened. So when these small, and slow developing insights take hold I go back to my go to action. Allowing my higher power to do the work and let it cook. The years of teasing and whatnot had left a deposit that still weighed on my psyche, and now I can start the work to dig up that part of the past. It’s just another point of it all that makes the practicing so rewarding, another peek into the parts that may hold a insight for others. Humility is a daunting task, an action of mind and body. It is not easily found and it can disappear behind a cloud in an instant. It is a point of balance that must be tempered with honesty, and enlightened through practice. I have found it contains more ground to cover, more work to be done, and be wise in my gardening, while planting whispers in the soul.