Recently I have been thinking about humility. I have noticed in the last couple of years how my memory is getting worse, and it never was that great. This means I find myself wanting to argue with someone who remembers something which I don’t believe happened, then seeing that it’s likely I just forgot it, and then apologizing. When I do this, I feel good and the other person generally feels good, and our relationship is strengthened rather than impaired. In my book, Zen in the Age of Anxiety, which will be available in bookstores in June, I talk about humility. Alan Watts used to say that one of the earth’s activities is, “to people.” Humility comes from the root word humus, which means earth or soil. Human beings came from the saltwater of the oceans and from the richness of the soil. Humus is aerated and moist because it’s not separate from the air and rain. It supports us, but not in the way we’re accustomed to. It’s a result of the the heating up and decomposing process of all manner of plant and animal life. When we allow ourselves to sink into the humus, beautiful wildflowers bloom where we are. There’s no security in being a wildflower. It feels much safer to be a polished stone, to look good to others and stand out in the world. Very little grows on a polished stone. Most of us have been stony for too many years. Try something different, and sink down into the earth. All the nourishment you need is there. With natural humility you to go all the way down into to the humus. You no longer stick up like you’re some big deal because you’ve got something that others don’t have. When you sink all the way into the ground you actually are a big deal—not because you are you, but because you are not you. You’ve touched the ground of all being, which is not a solid ground at all. It is aerated with all life. So instead of trying to be somebody special, natural humility allows you to be something much more. It allows you the freedom to be nobody in particular. Nobody to defend or uphold, nobody to judge good or bad, and no one in need of redemption.
Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher