I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the qualities of love, patience, and even faith, but I don’t think I’ve spent too much time writing about humility. Humility is often a misunderstood trait. Too often it becomes false humility where the person abdicates their personal power or their knowing about life and themselves. Otherwise, humility is considered a kind of weakness by the ego, which thinks it needs to declare itself as amazing or important. Why do you think so many people pursue fame? It’s for the ego’s aggrandization and validation. When we love ourselves, we don’t need external validation, which is simply a watered-down, polluted form of love. If we achieve notoriety of some sort, then that is fine, but this too shall pass. There’s no reason to hold onto it or defend it.
In humility, we see this, and we more easily can see all the ways our prideful egos try to hide from the reality of the ridiculous three-ring circus we turn our lives into.
Meeting the Intellectual Ego
Even on the spiritual path, the intellectual ego can stay burrowed into our lives. It loves to hide out behind words and ideas. I know. I’ve deconstructed my intellectual ego, and I am quite familiar with it. However–before I get too far down the road–we aren’t getting rid of the intellect. The horse is not a problem. It just needs to be guided to pull the cart. That’s why you can hear very strong spiritual people saying and doing powerful things, and the unconscious intellectual ego will say, “Ah, look at them. They’re just being egotistical after all. They’re not as good as they think they are.” If you are sensitive to the ego’s games, you can hear all the judgments in that statement.
Back to the topic at hand, many of you have never really looked at the intellectual ego and what you think it means to be rational or logical. Who even made up the rules of logic or “common sense?” What are your rules of logic? It’s important to know this to understand the cage you’ve created for yourself. If you don’t poke some holes in this box of ideas you’re living in, you will never be able to let the light in. Furthermore, the presumption that the light and love you want to be interconnected with should somehow pander to your ideas of what it should be and feel like will only bring further misery. I know of far too many people who run away when love does show up at their door simply because it doesn’t look or feel like their intellectual ideas.
The Rebuilding of Intellectual Egos in the Name of Spirit
A lot of people do amazing work for themselves in breaking down their intellectual ego, but then they latch onto a new set of ideas. Right when they’re clearing space to drop more deeply into the Truth, they go looking for more little truths and ideas. They surround themselves with a new barricade of Buddhist tenets, Christian doctrine, astrological structures, and so forth. They say to themselves, “Now I understand things.” But they’ve gotten further from the Truth of themselves. All religions can be used to help us open to the divine, but if they become simply ideas to conceptually understand and religious practices to perform, they lose their potency.
Meanwhile, the intellectual ego feels safe again surrounded by these new ideas, explanations, and what not. It may again become very prideful. It will declare that this is how it is from a very narrow point of view. Be mindful once again that awakened individuals can speak very strongly in declarations, but it comes from a different place. You can feel the difference, at least if you are open to it. But as I mentioned, the prideful intellectual ego often closes out the truth. It closes it out because it has to defend its positions because it’s ideological positions are part of its identity. And who would you be without your identity?
Humble Enough to Be No One
One of the beautiful things that has many people more excited about Catholicism than any other time I remember is that the Pope has really been working to bring humility forward in serving his faith. There was a popular picture that got spread around the Internet about him holding a deformed man. These images and qualities of humility are quite moving and inspiring. It is a picture that shows that the more we are humble, the more we can reach out to anyone. The more too, we can receive from any one. The ego making the rules about who is good enough to love them, teach them, help them, be worthy of their help, hold them, give money to them, and everything else goes away in the face of humility. Humility is an open heart in some of it’s most fundamental ways, and it is also an invitation to the truth that we are nobody.
Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post called, “Be Nobody.” The delightful part of this is that nobody doesn’t have to try to be humble. If humility arises, then that is what is true in the moment. It is the beautiful way where we are so deeply in the flow of love and integrity that we naturally move to what is the most true expression of ourselves. In this way, humility can be a kind of stepping stone to help us heal from pride. It’s the same way that courage is needed to heal from fear. If we are not afraid, what need is their for courage? If we are not doubting, what need is there for trust and faith? In the depths of your inner being, you are perfect.
But the intellectual ego doesn’t see that.
The Prideful Intellectual Ego’s Many Games
As I said earlier, we are not here to destroy the intellect or the ego. We are helping them to do their functions appropriately within ourselves. We are also not here to point out the flaws in others. It is always paramount to face the issues within ourselves before we ever concern ourselves about our partners, children, bosses, co-workers, friends, and so forth (The only exception is where abuse is going on; it is never okay to be intentionally hurt by others or yourself. Martyrdom earns you nothing on the spiritual path). I believe the verse in the Bible from the Book of Matthew goes something like: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” This is the nature of the intellectual ego.
Common games of the intellectual ego:
- Pointing out the flaws of others or directly attacking them intellectually
- Rejecting the truth unless it fits specific logical rules or already accepted (and potentially flawed) intellectual ideas
- Talking around issues or to cover up uncomfortable feelings and truths
- Rejecting help in preference for acting independently (While we all need to do some things on our own, there is no doubt that help is important for all of us.)
- Acting like it already knows everything (It can manifest on the spiritual path by saying, “I know everything is love.” But the individual only knows this intellectually.)
- Disavowing the wisdom of the body and heart
Humility Is Not a Doormat
Because humility is not well-understood, people often consider humility an invitation to be a doormat. They think that it is passive and that they’ll just have to agree with others. But humility can be very strong. It can help you to make the changes you want, and it also helps you to not overreact. There are plenty of things that we DON’T need to do. Much of the spiritual path is a kind of undoing, and in doing less, we are de-programming this cultural program that says we have to constantly do things to be valuable, to be okay, and to be worthy of social approval/validation. Humility is much like acceptance. They work hand-in-hand. A lot of times we are accepting that we have no idea how life should work out. Humility often shows up in my sessions when someone admits that they don’t know what love is or who they are. The intellectual ego tends to fight tooth and nail against realizing such a statement much less admitting it out loud.
From this admission, things can change. Life can be come very dynamic for an individual where things could have gotten stuck. It can become dynamic even when the intellectual ego didn’t think things were stuck, which is even more unsettling for people. Again and again, the prideful intellectual ego will get forced to admit that it does not know what is going on in life nor what may happen down the road.
The Dissolving of the Prideful Ego
Piece by piece, a prideful ego can be melted away. Humility has that power. Humility helps us to see that we don’t know parts of ourselves, and the more we cultivate our inner knowing, we can find new paths that take us where we need to go. Our inner knowing and humility teach us to ask for help when we need it. They teach us how to listen with an open heart so that we can receive the messages we need to hear. They teach us to notice when we resist the truth offered from a teacher, friend, lover, child, parent, or someone else. In this way, we can find the truth we need, but at the same time, we let go of others projections and let go of ideas that outlive their usefulness. There is a quality of softness and gentleness to humility that allows us to flow while the prideful intellectual ego tends to be very hard. There’s always something for unconscious ego to defend. While humility will allow us to protect ourselves when needed, most things in Western Culture don’t need active physical defense. As we learn that, we waste less energy building barrier or creating attacking arguments. Who is it that needs to attack or defend? What is being protected or gained? Use these questions to uncover more of the intellectual ego in your journal.
Until you know the rules of the prideful ego, you will keep acting them out and often drive away the very help, love, and truth you need. As I mentioned earlier, you may even use the spiritual path as a new way to defend your ego. But you are ultimately defending something that doesn’t exist. It is best to just let it go. Let the box of ideas dissolve, and claim your freedom through humility.