from The Hero’s Journey for The Daily ZU – I think there is something to learn from the Shakers. They were a religious sect back in the 19th Century known for producing chairs that it’s said will last a thousand years. Yet none of the craftspeople took credit for their work. They believed that the act itself was its own reward, and invested themselves fully in their work, as a form of prayer. Of course, traditions in the East believed, too, that “a warrior learns to meditate in every act,’ as Socrates says to his pupil, Dan Millman, in the movie, Peaceful Warrior.
The Shakers really seemed to espouse the value of humility, which doesn’t have many endorsements today, probably because you can’t endorse and be humble at the same time. I have an uncle, 93, confined to a nursing home and not allowed visitors. He’s survived possible Covid-19, a broken femur, surgery, a hospital stay. He hasn’t seen his family in months. Yet he’s usually cheerful, quick to smile and to laugh. He exhibits a guilelessness, a purity and an innocence which I rarely see in the world.
What my uncle and the Shakers don’t think they’re humble. They don’t try to be humble. The thought of it never occurs to them. They understand that each day brings its own fulfillment. In this sense, humility has a lot to do with happiness.
Some people try to be happy, and they usually end up unhappy. Happiness can’t be pursued for its own sake, or it eludes us. That’s why almost none of the formulas for happiness work in the long run. Happiness happens when we live rightly, and by living rightly I’m not talking about conforming to any objective moral standard. I’m talking about being congruent with our inner selves, whether that’s the teachings of Socrates or socialism. Happiness happens when we least expect it, when we’re not trying to be happy.
Humility, like happiness, can’t be sought for its own sake. It’s the byproduct of other efforts, and sometimes of other non-efforts. In fact, it often comes when we stop trying for something: a promotion; a dream job; a lot of money. It’s most frequent accompanying act is surrender. And surrender, unlike resignation, is often a difficult task. Like a work of art, surrender can’t be consciously and deliberately effected. We’re not in control of it. Surrender can’t be accomplished, since it’s the opposite of accomplishment. It is to be completely aware, yet not conscious of ourselves at the same time.
To be humble is not to be conscious of humility, for as soon as I become conscious of it, it’s like becoming conscious that you’re falling asleep. It wakes you right back up into its opposite state. This is why humility is such a difficult condition, found most often in the very young, and the very old. For the young aren’t trying to be anything except themselves, in the moment. And the old have given up trying to be anything anymore. Wisdom, therefore, is written in the bookends of life. It’s written into life’s beginning and its end, and is usually not found written in many of the pages of the books in between. Wisdom, like humility, is something you have the least of when you think you have the most of it. Socrates made that observation, and he never tried to ‘tell’ anyone anything.
My job is to give up trying to be anything other than myself, in the present moment.