The Struggle with Humility

Stephan de PalyFor the better part of a year I have been working with Caroline Myss’s Entering the Castle, a refashioning of Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle. Part of me feels guilty about spending all of this time with this derivation of such a classic text, with all of its modern directions about “Soul Work” and journaling, but I have to trust my 21st century spirit and give her what she needs. Though I’ve had the original out from the library for ages (in the guise of two tragically plain looking volumes that hold 1960s translations of the saint’s complete works) I know that my chances of really reading unmediated Teresa is rather remote, while I know I will give time to the process as Myss lays it out.

Before you can come anywhere near the pyrotechnics of the soul that mark the mystic’s experience (and I use that term facetiously, knowing that a great deal of the journey to the Divine is rooted in silent communion rather than blinding visions and moments of levitation) one has to work with what Teresa calls the “reptiles.” These are the fears and hang ups and frailties that keep you from real communion with your sacred self. The reptiles are the petty shreds of the all too human preoccupations that keep us from embracing divinity.

Myss introduces humility as a necessary “quality of character” as one walks the spiritual path; understanding it builds the essential foundation as you journey upward to the turrets of the soul castle. She writes: “humility allows you to recognize an acknowledge all the positive qualities of body, mind, and spirit in another person”; “humility disarms the competitive voice”; and “humility enables you to understand another person’s motivations and to transcend any negativity.”

It’s written in a bit of a self-helpy way, but all of these things seem really quite wonderful and I can certainly get excited about the positive outcomes engendered by embracing humility and shifting the way I relate to others. At the same time, I do not think I had ever thought about the concept of humility before I picked up this book; it certainly was never a quality I strove for. What does one think of besides kids who grew up in tiny houses (humble beginnings) and someone forced to eat their words (humble pie)? I, like so many others, was raised to be an achiever; you have to sell your skills and make sure that all of your accomplishments were recognized and applauded. Putting others first all of the time is a good way to be labeled one of the “nice” girls in class, but it is not how you get to be known as interesting or clever.

I have an awful lot invested in being considered interesting and clever, so the realization that my wittiest lines so often come at the expense of others has been a vicious reptile to wrestle with. It is this resistance to letting go of what I tend to see as hallmarks of my personality (rather than banal cruelties) that has kept me in this first mansion for months, knowing that I must go back and peel away endless layers of resistant false self. So many corners of my being are shocked to learn that the goal is recognize myself to be a humble servant of God.

That really is the ultimate goal: to figure out how to act humbly on this earth with all that you meet so that you are prepared to approach to Divine with devotion unencumbered by the petty mandates of the ego. At this point I am willing to declare it a worthy enterprise, but it doesn’t seemto be a quality that contemporary living has prepared me for. I have some more work to do so that I can fight the belief that I will need to wear a sign that declares “I’m not being shy/dull/retiring, I’m being HUMBLE!”

And so I close another entry, wondering whether I am transgressing the humility code as I hope that people find my words intriguing enough to have reach the end…

4 thoughts on “The Struggle with Humility

  1. trudyj65 February 9, 2008 / 5:50 pm

    Very interesting! I have Interior Castle on my reading list for Lent, and I have wanted to read something by Carolyn Myss for years, so that might be an interesting companion read — I hadn’t heard of it before!!

  2. FranIAm February 10, 2008 / 6:42 pm

    Greetings! Thank you for coming by my blog and it was so interesting to see your post about both Myss’ book as well as St. Teresa’s.

    There are no real coincidences as far as I am concerned!

    I will be reading more of your work. As you might have seen my blog is not so spiritual all the time, but I am very much about my own faith. I express more of that at a blog I write for my parish.

    The St. Teresa piece -which I did not write myself, but was anonymous as I had mentioned, did generate quite a lot of comments.

    Peace to you and thanks again.

  3. girlwhocriedepiphany February 10, 2008 / 7:04 pm

    Trudy – I have come to realize that Entering the Castle may take years for me to get through, but if one of the many things I can take from it is patience, I will be all the better for it!

    Fran – Welcome! I look forward to reading more of what you have to say of the spiritual and non-spiritual variety. Over here much most of what you will see is written through my spiritual filter, but we need all kinds of input. I do love your politics!

  4. gartenfische February 10, 2008 / 10:54 pm

    Your words are always intriguing. . . .

    I’ve been meaning to read The Interior Castle for a long time, and have not (though I’ve read about it).

    Humility is a trait I feel I’ve misunderstood for most of my life, and am only now embracing as a good and helpful quality.

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