I broke hours of silence during treatments at the Ayurvedic ashram to say awkwardly to Haridas, the 17-year-old boy toweling off my naked body: "So... um... do you like football?" Intimate strangers, he and I. We spoke very few of the same words and communicated mostly by gerunds and gestures. I'm learning humility.
When I was 17, I would help my invalid grandfather wash and dress and eat. A stroke had rendered him almost helpless and at the time my young mind found it difficult to understand his frustration: after all, we were doing all the work for him. I understand a little better now how he might have felt about the basic dignity of simply washing yourself.
"Humble" comes from the Latin word "Humilis," or Low, and "Humus," or Earth. To become humble is like an act of lowering to the earth or your most basic elements, or returning to dust, your origins. And while humility may be difficult, humiliating really, it is the opportunity to stop pretending, to go back to the start, and give it another try. We have no choice but to strip away the entrapments of ego, the feeling of being impenetrable, feeling in control, etc. That's why I traveled 9 thousand miles to Aditya, the ashram in Kerala, India, to do Panchakarma and get my body, mind, and spirit back to the start.
Maybe this is why my wise Ayurvedic teacher, Jaisri, would encourage me to put myself in nature whenever I struggled with questions and doubt, whenever I could not see clearly. Getting back into nature was going back to the origin. Being in nature is my opportunity to become humble in the face of this big beautiful world and to make myself naked to it, to let it teach me, just like I must allow the boy here to bathe me.
In this culture it seems we value someone who "has their s--- together." We like to give someone a pat on the back who has worked hard to polish the armor of their egos. We congratulate people who seem to be embracing success, partly because we are all afraid of humility-all afraid that after the polish and shine and sweet smells and smiles and sunshine are gone, it's just us, a vulnerable naked human being like any other.
While we may feel temporarily safe when we pretend that nothing can harm us or hurt us or even put us in a bad mood, resting in this apparent pretense may stunt our growth and keep us from the truth: that humility gives us compassion and loving-kindness, for ourselves and for all beings.
This week, humble yourself (or be humbled) by going to a new class, or by practicing your nemesis poses (especially those that are difficult and make you feel dumb). Also, enjoy humbling poses, poses where you let go of the control, of the ego, of the show, like savasana, child's pose, pigeon pose, etc. Get ready to learn. And ask yourself: What do I get by humbling myself, by letting go of the hard-fought image of having "it all together"?