A friend asked me the other day if I have been humbled. It’s a good and a fair question. I don’t know how much you think about this. I really hadn’t until he brought it up. He didn’t mean it in the sense of loosing power or strength. He meant quite the opposite.
I think most of us hide behind some form of protection, no matter how much we might feel otherwise. I’ve said before in this blog that I believe it is built into human beings, buried deep in our mammalian brains, to do whatever is necessary to preserve ourselves, to survive. Therefore, to show any form of weakness goes against our prey animal instinctual nature and it’s simply amazing to me how many things we can think of as weak, like needing another or opening our hearts. At least that’s been true for me.
And yet I believe it is the order of the universe that we FEEL, that we are made vulnerable. Buddha said the heart must be broken again and again until it stays open. In order to truly put ourselves out there, to live fully alive, I believe we must be open and this doesn’t always feel natural. It does not always feel good. A lifetime of protective instincts can be challenging to override. But I am convinced truth is found in the unprotected, pulsing self where we are meant to live. So to be humbled–to be stripped bare and opened–requires that we rise above nature and be that which goes against instinct. And to do that requires strength. So in being humbled we are being made strong.
This was what my friend was asking. And I told him that, yes, recently I have been. But it is not a constant–something I can hold tightly and keep, rather an experience or series of experiences I must remember and practice over and over every day.
A reader of the blog sent a poem by Rilke to me the other day that I think expresses what I’m trying to say beautifully. I offer it here (Thanks Rebecca!):
THE MAN WATCHING
I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
So many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
That a storm is coming,
And I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister.
The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
Across the woods and across time,
And the world looks as if it had no age;
The landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
Is seriousness and weight and eternity.
What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
As things do by some immense storm,
We would become strong too, and not need names.
When we win it’s with small things,
And the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
Does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
To the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
When the wrestlers’ sinews
Grew long like metal strings,
He felt them under his fingers
Like chords of deep music.
Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
Went away proud and strengthened
And great from that harsh hand,
That kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
By constantly greater beings.
Rilke (translated by Robert Bly)
Love to you all,