“Only the humble soul can be led. Only the humble soul is coachable. Only the humble soul can truly advance in the spiritual life.”–Matthew Kelly
I have had five extremely humbling years. It has been a very good experience for me. Notice I didn’t say it was enjoyable. It’s been a lot of Hell, really. But it was good to have had these experiences that brought me to my knees, broke my leg, caused me to re-evaluate things, rearrange priorities, and set new goals.
Don’t shun the “negative” experiences. The practice of Zen has taught me that all experiences have something to teach us, regardless of whether they seem “good” or “bad.” Alan Watts taught us, with his “game of black and white,” that we have no way of even knowing what good is without bad, or what bad is without good. It’s all revealed within the context of the universal field of opposites. It takes knowledge of one to know the other.
Whether you find being humbled or being humble a good experience will depend on the context. None of us enjoy being humbled, but most of us appreciate a person who is humble. A person who is humble knows their limits, usually because of having had some humbling experiences. A person who is humble is usually kind because of this.
A: Because once doctors have completed their training and been licensed by their state governing board, they are trusted to know what they are doing, and are respected as professionals.
When I taught in Baltimore we were required to post the instructional objectives for every lesson on the board….EVERY DAY! It was the most amazing waste of time for us (teachers), and completely useless for the students. I rationalized the waste of my time by thinking that it was simply a quick reference for the administrators and North Avenue officials who could pop into my classroom at any time, allowing them to see what the focus of my lesson was for that day at a glance….AS IF any of them had memorized ALL the state standards for ALL the subject areas at EVERY grade level.
The requirement to do this is something that was surely concocted in some meeting attended by education policy “experts” (most often these are failed teachers who left the classroom because they couldn’t cope with the realities of the public school classroom, dealing with other people’s children, etc.), so they can justify their existence.
What it really does is place an added burden on teachers and interfere with our teaching by taking up time that could better be spent planning, grading, and–most importantly– building relationships with students.
Teachers undergo many years of training, and are licensed by a state governing board, just like doctors, lawyers, nurses, and many other professionals. No one knows our content area standards better than we do. Writing them in the lesson plan should be more than enough. I am so grateful my school doesn’t require me to do this.
On June 8th, 2018, I fell off my bicycle and broke my leg into five pieces. My leg broke at a clean angle across the upper tibia and fibula, and my upper tibeal plateau broke into three triangular pieces. The break was so bad that when I was checked into Benefis Hospital in Great Falls, Montana awaiting the surgery required to piece me back together, the nurses, CNAs, and other attendants who frequented my room kept initiating this conversation:
Them: “Wow! That’s bad! How did you break your leg?”
Me: “I fell off my bike.”
Them: “What kind of motorcycle do you ride?”
Me: “It wasn’t a motorcycle. It was a bicycle.”
Them: “You must have been going fast!”
Me: “No. I was just stepping off. The bicycle was barely moving.”
That accident has seriously interrupted and changed my life for going on two years, now.
I had already become overweight from years of public school teaching, a job which can cause you to neglect yourself because of the ridiculously long days and continuous demand to respond to the urgent needs of children and other emergencies regularly created by circumstances beyond your control.
Ironically, I had already decided months earlier that I was going to stop neglecting my health and ride my bicycle every day and everywhere that summer. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in April of 2015, and it has become harder and harder for me to swing my leg over the back of my bicycle. I had gotten in the habit of laying the bike on the ground, standing over it, then lifting it upright between my legs, because it was so hard to mount with the arthritis.
So I decided to get a Biria Easy Boarding bicycle, the lowest-clearance center-mount bicycle in the world. I had just gotten my bicycle, spent two days assembling it, and had ridden it for two days and, LOVED IT! I had also been riding my regular bike to school and back for a month at that point, so I had been getting some good exercise. Add that to my usual 10,000+ steps/day and I was reasonably fit for being overweight, and I was not out of practice on the bike.
However, on day three I got a bit too ambitious, went a little too far, took on a hill that was a little too steep, wiped out my quads so that they were giving me no support, and when I stepped off my bike my leg completely gave way and hyper-extended. I had only been out of school for a week and my summer was GONE. If you are a teacher, or if you are closely associated with teachers, then you KNOW how terribly devastating it would be to have your summer of outdoor recreational fun all lined out and then have that snatched away in an instant because of an accident.
I spent the next nine days in the hospital, had surgery (bolt through the upper tibeal plateau, external fixator bar installed), and arranged for the convalescent equipment I would need once I got home. I was fortunate to have bought a house and moved into it just two months before that was already ADA outfitted. My bathroom is the second largest room in my home with plenty of room to cruise around in a wheelchair. It has a walk-in shower with grab bars, grab bars around the toilet, and doors that easily accommodate the width of a wheel chair. My house even has a porch lift for a wheel chair. We had been planning to take all of that out and remodel. After the accident we decided that it would be stupid to take it out, and it’s going to remain exactly as is until after we move on to another house (which will be ADA outfitted–all homes should be ADA outfitted, because you never know what is coming down the road, and it’s better to be prepared; it’s also nice to be able to accommodate guests who require ADA accommodations).
I’m a positive person and live my life by the law of gratitude. I held it together emotionally, stuck my chin out, put on a stiff upper lip, and decided that I was going to stick with my weight loss plan regardless of the accident. I had planned to do it riding my bicycle. Now I was just going to have to do it counting calories, since I couldn’t walk. So I counted calories.
I lost 37 pounds just counting calories over the next 12 weeks.
Then school started.
Then other stressful things happened.
Then the avalanche of unhealthy life situations just kept on rolling.
I gained the 37 pounds back, and haven’t been able to get it off since.
A few weeks ago I made some really good choices about rearranging my life so that I’m not set up to fail at health, happiness, or achieving my goals. It was long past time for me to do so. I immediately felt better. I’ve also finally gotten to a place where I feel no remorse when saying “no” to other people’s demands on me. I’ve returned to a healthy sleep cycle, healthy food choices, healthy scheduling changes, and healthy psycho-spiritual practices. Just this morning I finally found an online video exercise program that I not only can do, but am willing to actually do. My husband joined me and enjoyed it, too.
So, what changed? It’s simple, but also not so simple: the pain of not doing things that are good for me became more painful than continuing in these unhealthy patterns. I was angry all the time, irritable, frustrated that I couldn’t do the things I want to do, resentful that my time was being usurped by the needs of others, which always seemed to be more important and urgent than my own needs.
I just decided to prioritize myself.
I am 55 years old, and I finally decided to prioritize myself.
Something is different, now. I can’t quite put my finger on it yet, but I will attempt to do so in the coming weeks as I continue to choose myself and my own priorities over others for a while. Stay tuned and we’ll figure it out together.
Experiencing joy when things are not going our way is easier said than done, but essential on the path to enlightenment and mindfulness.
If you find you are too stressed out, feeling like a pressure cooker, and you can’t find the way to “joyful,” (a situation I found myself in recently), do this:
1) Allow yourself to feel your feelings deeply, consciously, and fully; no matter how intense or “bad” those feelings are.
2) Follow those feelings like breadcrumbs and try to trace them to their source.
What is causing you to be so stressed out, angry, or sad?
Usually, it’s not what we think it is (the person or situation irritating us at the moment). Usually it is something we are doing to ourselves, a situation we have placed ourselves in, a relationship or association we don’t want to admit is not healthy for us…
The road to joy is down that path, where we can excise the situation, then turn around and head in a new direction, leaving not only the situation but the pain/stress/anger/sadness behind.
If you can’t “follow your bliss,”* then follow your stress, figure out what’s causing it, and fix it.
I wish I were better at taking a breath and being patient in a moment of anger, and I wish I remembered to do it more often. I was angry a LOT in 2019. But my anger showed me where to look for what was causing me to feel that way, and it helped me make some appropriate and positive adjustments.
I saw a meme on Facebook a few days ago that said (ironically), “The best way to become enlightened is to argue with people on Facebook.”
It resonated with me because comments from people trying to argue in my post threads get DELETED. I don’t want that energy on my wall. I don’t care if you’re right or wrong. Attempts to argue are immediately deleted.
Here’s the path to enlightenment through the vehicle of Facebook (because all vehicles are paths to enlightenment, if you use them the right way): when someone posts something you don’t like or agree with, notice your response/reaction. If you come racing out of the gate, shouting them down, telling them how stupid or misinformed their position is, you are as far from enlightenment as it is possible to get. But if you pause, take a breath, think about what they said, try to understand why they said it, consider whether it is true/factual/informed or not, then carefully consider whether to respond at all, and then if choosing to respond you also measure your response through the THINK gate (is it True, Helpful, Informed/Important/Inspiring, Necessary, AND Kind), then you are approaching enlightenment.
In the USA, we have taken our right to freedom of speech too far when we do not recognize that we also have the freedom and responsibility to measure our words and be kind.
This is a lesson that I have made a top priority in my teaching at school, because it’s something sorely lacking in American society in recent years.
And for those of you who have not yet figured this out: you CAN delete people’s comments from your post threads; you are under no obligation whatsoever to be the town hall for whoever wants to rant on your wall. It’s YOUR wall, and it’s not only your right to moderate it, it’s your responsibility.
I wish I had been able to play Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood for my daughter when she was a pre-schooler, but since I had to work and she was always at daycare during the show I was unable to do it. I wasn’t able to watch it myself, even though it aired in 1968, because my Mom wasn’t into educational programming or wasn’t aware of PBS, so I didn’t know about Mr. Rogers until I was in college.
As a teacher, I review a lot of educational programming. Mr. Rogers is hands-down the BEST that there is; better than Sesame Street, and Sesame Street’s pretty darned good.
But if I had been able to watch, and let my daughter watch, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, both of us might have had better emotional skills and equipment for dealing with 1) all the trauma from my own childhood that interfered with me being the best possible parent, and 2) all the trauma in her childhood resulting from that, as well as us living with an alcoholic before I was able to recognize that’s what was happening, and the resulting devastating wake left by that broken marriage.
But you don’t have to be traumatized to get the most out of Mr. Rogers! He was simply brilliant at communicating with children, and helping them find their voice and ways to express themselves in a healthy way.
Do yourself and your children (and grandchildren) a favor and watch Mr. Rogers. It’s simply the best children’s programming ever created.
“If you feel like you’re losing everything, remember that trees lose their leaves every year and they still stand tall and wait for better days to come.”–tinybuddha.com
I do NOT feel that I am losing everything. I’ve had several new and wonderful things enter my life, for which I am grateful. But they were only able to enter as I LET GO of other things that no longer served me.
Letting go–shedding things that no longer serve us–can create room for things that do serve us to come rushing in.
Additionally, when we let go of things they can be gifts to those who actually do need the things we no longer need to hold onto.
There’s an old African proverb that tells us that when children are born, they come out with their fists clenched because that’s where they keep all their gifts. As they grow their hands learn to unfold because they’re learning to release their gifts to the world.
Unclench your fists. Release your gifts. Leave your hands open and see what comes to you.
I have been going 90-to-nothing for over six months, now; doing and being things for other people that they needed without any regard for what I needed. I made some decisions this past weekend. I would say they were hard decisions but they weren’t. It’s amazing how easy it was to make this shift, really. I just did what I needed to do for me. I didn’t do it soon enough, but once I made the decision it was quick and easy.
From now on, people in town will likely only see me as I beat a path between my home and the school and back, or on my weekly trip to mass. I’m in the process of hunkering down, getting down to MY business, and taking better care of my own needs for a while.
As I was reflecting on how quickly I decided to do this and acted on it, this scene from The Usual Suspects came to mind. If you’re not one of my students or colleagues you might think I’ve moved out of town. I haven’t. I’m just hunkered down in my art studio, doing my own thing.
I frequently interpret difficult, soul-trying circumstances as punishment. When you were raised by a sociopath you are trained to believe that when bad things happen to you it is always your fault, and you deserve it. This is a hard thought pattern to break.
I must constantly remind myself–in the wake of such a long, quick succession, of repeatedly unfortunate events, recently–that I behaved and responded with integrity, did “as much as depends upon me,” and did the very best I could, though imperfectly. When such is the case I have nearly passed the test.
But only “nearly” because the other part of the test is to hold fast, weather the storm, and remember that I am and will be OK because I am not alone–Jesus is IN THE BOAT in the midst of the storm, so to speak.
Jeremiah didn’t do any better than I am doing. God had to remind him that He is in the stillness, the suggestion being that when you’re caught in a whirlwind you don’t run or panic, you go to that still space inside yourself.
That. Is. Difficult.
The best I can hope for and expect of myself is that when I am continuously and regularly on the receiving end of so much bad stuff, despite doing “as much as depends on me,” and always getting up and trying again after an attempted knockout punch, is to be like the man who said: