Recall the definition of humility is choosing to go to a small place, representing an awareness of what one can and can’t do. One side-effect (or benefit) of humility is experiencing freedom.
To get an idea of what freedom is let’s start with defining what it isn’t. Lack of freedom is being trapped and at the core of being trapped is suffering. In turn, suffering is based on being attached to something or someone.
An example of attachment is given: hitting my thumb with a hammer. There are two distinct components to this situation: the actual pain felt and how I decided to deal with that pain. Suffering is getting hung up on the pain, e.g., feeling sorry for myself, feeling I can take it out on others, etc.
A distinction is made with regards to the value of the physical pain, i.e., getting me to pay attention to thumb to avoid hurting it further and to allow it to heal.
At the core, freedom is being present with what is occurring and letting go of suffering.
Decision points deciding to be free or suffer occur throughout the day and I do have the power to choose to suffer, e.g., pushing my child to get an A on a test, that woman will love me, boss will give a raise, etc. Or, I can choose to simply be present with what is, immerse myself in the experience and be present. Choosing the latter approach frees me to see what is available in the moment. In other words, see options.
Choosing to attach to an experience and become reactive creates tunnel vision and options fly out the window.
Presence includes being with the specific activity or person in front of me while also being aware of the environment and what is going on in the periphery.
One example of enjoying the freedom that comes with humility and being present is sitting in the sunroom in the morning with Jeny, enjoying her presence but also being aware of the squirrel outside trying to steal seed from the bird feeder, the cats vying for position on our laps, etc.
Freedom can also be present with uncomfortable tasks. The letting go of the difficulties and/or uncomfortable feelings opens up the opportunity to see and pursue options.
Astronauts formally train to do this letting go activity by going through an risk management exercise called, “The next thing that can kill me is _______ .” This helps them learn how to respond to a situation rather than react and lose site of options.
How do I get to a reactive state? By having expectations. With expectations there is a desire to control someone or something beyond my humility boundary. Attention disappears and there is just a pushing of my agenda, e.g., pushing my child to get an A or badgering my spouse or partner to be a certain way.
Expectations lead to throwing away freedom. Suffering results.
This is an age-old problem. The Roman philosopher Epictetus (c. 50 AD) stated, “There is pain and there is torture. Pain is when we now the source of our discomfort. Torture is when we don’t.” Suffering creates torture and the associated blindness. When in pain I can see the options available and decide what to do. This is exercising freedom. This also applies to when feeling well.
Expectations lead to an unrealistic sense of control, a cause-and-effect relationship between me and the person or situation I want to satisfy me expectation.
The listener is challenged to look for situations where they abandon their freedom or decide to remain humble and embrace the freedom.
Now, there is a paradox with regards to humility and ambition. It is fine to have goals and make certain sacrifices. However, it is important to watch out for the risk of turning oneself over to the desired goal and losing oneself, only having meaning based on becoming the goal. An example is Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada.
In order to pursue ambition in a humble manner the key is forming a team with like-minded people. Doing this with a sense of abundance where the tasks and rewards are shared with others not only helps preserve freedom it creates an opportunity for abundance where what is achieved is greater than the capabilities of any one person.
This sets the stage for joy to surface!
It is difficult to maintain humility in situations such as divorce, especially when one doesn’t want it to occur. The power to hold the marriage together is gone. Embracing this reality is essential to maintain freedom through humility. The other person is on the other side of the humility boundary.
The courage to grieve and embrace the sadness is essential in order to be free and have options.
This gets to a willingness to accept the unfairness of life in order to be free. There’s a power in embracing being in a small place.
Remember, freedom exists inside humility. By linking with others through giving up some independence interdependence develops and, again, more can be achieved. It is expansive, both in terms of being with what is immediately present as well as awareness of the environment and what is on the periphery. It’s quite a paradox!
Freedom in the presence of failure is extremely important. Character is built based on decisions made and actions taken when in a failed state. Attachment to the failure dissolves humility and a blindness to options and possibilities sets in. Freedom disappears.
Well, that concludes another podcast in the Power of Humility series.
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