Thursday, November 15, 2012

Humble Bumble

A few years ago I had the privilege of attending a seminar led by Mary Jarvis with my fellow yogis, Jen, Borislava and Bryant. My teacher and few of my yoga-idols were also in attendance. This made for a very nice stage for what may have been my most apparently self-aggrandizing moment ever.

Mary had me demonstrate a pose at one point (Don't think that means I'm 'all that and a bag of chips,' a LOT of people demonstrated poses). I'm no longer sure what the pose was. The specifics of that moment are lost to time. The moments that followed, however, those moments I remember clear as a plexi-display case.

I remember trying really hard to conceal the grin that plagues me when I get nervous. When I get emotionally overwhelmed one of two things happen, A) my eyes water and my face flushes, giving the appearance that I will burst in tears at any moment or B) I grin. The grin may seem like the preferable of the two options. Let me assure you it is not. At least my near-tears may be interpreted as nearly the correct emotion. The dumb-grin that spreads across my face, nearly meeting in the back of my head, leads to the general impression I am having a ball. It shows nothing of the horror going on in my brain. Sometimes there is even inappropriate laughter, which can be mortifying.

After the demonstration, I sat back down on my matt and all eyes were back where they belonged, Mary. Then a student asked a question that put eyes back on me, "Is she humble?"

I felt the red run to my face; this could be either tears or a grin, neither of which would work well. PLEASE be the tears, I thought. I put my head down to mask whatever was coming and especially not to feel all those eyes looking for signs of vanity. A million things rushed through my head. First of which was a very offended, "What the F*CK sort of a question is that!?!"

I quickly analyzed that thought and decided that what they were really pointing to was the mind-body connection, that the physical aspects are only half the posture. In that moment I may have messed up. Bad.

I am to this day terrified that I may have actually nodded to my own internal approval of the question. I can't be sure if my head actually did bob or not, but I do remember the terror of thinking it did. I froze realizing what the rest of the seminar had possibly just seen:
"Yes, but is she humble?" The class turns to see me, grinning like a cheshire cat, head bowed in apparent mock-humbleness, then I give a nod as if to answer the question myself. "Yes, of course I am humble, look at me, I even bow my head!"
Mary tactfully answered the question saying she trusted that my trainer judged that I was. The seminar continued. I may have been grinning/crying the whole rest of the day had my body not gone into massive detox, giving me a headache that knocked out any chance at self-evaluation.

Since then I have attempted to determine what being humble means to me. Am I humble and could I ever be a humble person?

If I were to ask anyone familiar with me I am sure they would say no. I mean, really, I have none of the outward affectations of someone who is humble. I am loud, I am outspoken and I am particularly talented at taking charge (-10 humble-points for narcissism).

I've asked myself if a person like that can be humble? Do all humble people contemplate sullenly in baggy robes or is there room among their ranks for the boisterous? And is modesty by necessity self-effacing? Is it better to be modest even if it means sacrificing potential?*

It's been two years since that seminar and I still don't know what being humble means to me but I'm thinking about it and that's got to get me somewhere.

* I encountered this question in the book, Pillars of the Earth. It was posed to Prior Phillip, a very humble man capable of great leadership who nearly missed his life's calling because he thought it too ostentatious. It opened a new perspective on humbleness for me. I am still not sure how I feel about it.


  1. You know, that's a pretty passive-aggressive question to ask in front of a crowd... but moving on from that...

    There's a passage in a book that I REALLY want to quote here, but I've loaned the book to a friend and she's had it now for a year. BOO. The book is "How Yoga Works" by Michael Roche. It's based on the yoga sutras, and there's a part that addresses pride. It say, well of course you should be proud of your accomplishments, but there's good pride and bad pride. (I'm paraphrasing horribly.) Here's how you tell the difference. Let's say you work long and hard to do a posture, and then someone else comes along and does it even better than you, more easily than you, in less time. The BIG question is, how do you feel towards that person? If you feel envious or jealous, that's the wrong kind of pride. But if you feel happy for that person and joyful about their accomplishment, then you're totally in the clear, and there is nothing wrong with the pride you take in your own progress.

    I'm not explaining this half as eloquently as it's explained in the book, but I hope this makes some kind of sense. Nobody should ever make you feel bad about being proud!

    1. "that's a pretty passive-aggressive question to ask in front of a crowd" AMEN! That was my first thought as well.

      It makes me a little sad that this person left you doubting yourself. For what it's worth, you did not seem at all conceited or arrogant (yes, I looked up opposites of humble hehe) to me when I met you briefly last year. I would say humility goes hand in hand with self-reflection, and it seems like you definitely do a lot of that. The fact that you have been mulling over this for two years speaks volumes.

      I can relate very well to the questions you asked in the paragraph toward the end. It is difficult to balance all the different facets of our character sometimes. I struggle with that as well in certain situations, example: should I hold back when in conversation with a person who might not understand everything I say? But even the awareness of this struggle tells me something about myself.

      PS: I love the book "How Yoga Works"!

    2. Juliana: The book is now on my list! Thanks! Could it really be as simple as that? I'll have to ponder (I do that a LOT).

      And in address to both responses A) Thank you! It is so wonderful to get such thoughtful feedback and insight to life's plaguing questions. B) I wonder about the *nature of* pride/being humble more than how it applies to me. By taking myself out of the equation I can ask broader questions and come to less biased answers. The act of being humble is particularly interesting to me because we have such strong opinions about it yet it is so culturally specific. For example: Americans are more likely to come to the defense of pride than Asians because Americans view self-sufficiency and independent thinking highly. Asians are more likely to covet humbleness because uniformity and the 'greater good' are culturally more valued. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Look at Japan after the tsunami, vending machines sat unscathed next to people who were dying of thirst. Not an issue you would have in the US.

    3. And Simm, you god it dead-on. Contemplation may not always yield clear results but it is so important we do it. :)