Humility - Bowing into the Mystery
By Miranda Macpherson
Be still, and lay aside all thoughts of what you are and what God is,
all concepts you have learned about the world,
all images you hold about yourself.
Empty your mind of everything you think is true or false, good or bad.
Hold onto nothing.
Do not cling to one belief you learned before about anything.
Just come with wholly empty hands unto God.
— adapted from A Course in Miracles
Recognizing what’s really holding you and learning to trust it helps you relax out of the past and into love’s presence. Not only does this unleash greater ease and flow, it provides a springboard to dive beyond your concepts of what you are and what the world is. Humility opens the gate, beckoning you to come and drink from the inner fountain of the Mystery.
You only have to look at a photograph of the Dali Lama, Nelson Mandela, or Ramana Maharshi to behold the beauty of a human being devoid of the puffiness of pride. Every wisdom tradition acknowledges humility as both the fragrance of a mature soul as well as a virtue that supports surrender. Further still, humility can usher you into the celestial state of grace, where you are spontaneously available to subtle nectars beyond the sense of “me” and “my.”
Humility Resolves the Problem of Pride
Pride makes our soul opaque and closed to receiving the blessings of grace. However, there is such a thing as “healthy pride.” Intuitively, we know how important it is to give positive mirroring to our children, affirming their qualities and capacities so that they develop inner confidence and self-respect. On an ordinary level, there is a deep satisfaction that comes from giving our best and doing anything well, be it cooking a gourmet meal, mastering a musical instrument, or completing a project. Even enjoying the warm glow of appreciation for honing our skills need not become a spiritual problem if we recognize what Rumi calls “the unseen presence that gives the gifts.”
I am sure you, dear reader, are not an obviously prideful person, going about your day bragging, aggrandizing, or pulling for affirmation to beef up a flaccid self-esteem. Yet the way of Grace invites you beyond the goal of positive psychology. This is not about getting a spiritually improved version of your personality, minus the parts you do not like. I am inviting you into Gnosis — direct mystical knowing of who you truly are, what truly IS.
Tasting grace challenges the subtle pride of trying to orient through life from the vantage point of the historically based “me.” Not only is this a very stressful, limited way of being, it contains an unconscious arrogance that denies the fact that every one of us is being lived and breathed by a mysterious presence so much more intelligent than our mind. Yet even for the spiritually seasoned, it can feel very edgy to “come with wholly empty hands unto God.”
What is True Humility?
It is easy to hear the transmission of ego relaxation that asks us to “be nothing, become nothing” as a negating put-down, rather than an exquisite yielding back into the Source of our being. Initially, it can feel like being asked to sacrifice all that makes life fun.
All too often, conventional religions have promoted the loosening of ego pride by a harsh doctrine of self-sacrifice, even affirming in Catholic liturgy, “I am not worthy to receive.” Sadly, this has blocked so many from entering into the receptive condition, not to mention causing significant confusion as to what humility really is.
True humility does not ask you to bat away compliments or acknowledgment when it comes; just not use them to inflate. Humility does not demand that you live in austerity, denying enjoyment of life’s sensual pleasures; just watch the tendency to make material possessions a false idol. Humility is not mimicking the gestures of your spiritual heroes; just remember that you exist because of something so much greater than “I.”
Being Humbled by Life
Life has a way of popping our pride, challenging our carefully manicured self-image. Whether it comes knocking on your door in the form of a cancer diagnosis, a demotion, a divorce, the loss of our social standing, it never feels like a blessing at first. It feels as if things are going terribly wrong. Yet if we can surrender into the situation, accept its invitation to empty out, it somehow becomes the very crucible that most blesses us.
This was the case for my dear, late friend Tony, when a malpractice lawsuit stripped him of his money, most of his friends, and his status as one of New York’s top psychiatrists. I will never forget walking the dog together one spring afternoon in Central Park. He looked up at me while scooping his poodle’s poop into a plastic bag, while saying, “Prison was the best thing that ever happened to me. I had become so prideful, so fake.” He was equally as graceful in the five years afterward, journeying consciously towards the end of his days with leukemia, dying a free man, at peace.
Likewise, a powerful CEO in the peak of her career I will call Sarah, embraced a breast cancer diagnosis as an invitation to let go of everything that was not working in her life, which meant honestly facing the places she had become tough, disconnected from her own tender heart and its knowing. Today, her radiance is astonishing, and she speaks freely about “the gift of cancer.”
Humility Helps You Empty Out
We have seen how much stress and struggle unfolds from believing “I am the do-er.” Left unchecked, this develops into a lack of humility in the face of the mystery, presuming “I know” or “I should know.” Trying to lead your self into deeper spiritual waters from within your story of being a separate someone is what causes the spiritual struggle.
Humility relaxes this falsity in an instant by inviting you into the receptive purity of “being nothing.” It is not a negation, but a quiet settling, in which you naturally become intimate with the living intelligence that birthed every one of us into existence. It is because of this living mystery that you are reading the words on this page and drawing breath right now. It is what has known you and loved you all the days of your life. You are never out of its operation.
Humility invites you to recognize that you are not who you have taken yourself to be. You are way deeper. The world and everything within it is way more exquisite, dimensional than your physical eyes might perceive.
Accessing mystical vision demands you step back from the pride of “I know” and empty out, beginning by emptying out your presumptions. Not just the judgments, projections, and opinions that obviously cause trouble, but also your presumptions of what the world is, even what you believe to be true spiritually. Without emptying your mind of what zen practitioners call “yesterday’s rice,” you cannot receive the blessings, gifts, and nourishment you need for today.
Opening up Space for Grace: A Reflection
Right now, take a few deeper breaths and look around you, considering freshly whatever your eyes light upon — perhaps familiar objects like furniture, the view onto trees, plants, perhaps the flesh of your own hand. Reflecting upon whatever you see, can you honestly say you understand what you perceive? That you are seeing it objectively? That you know it?
Perhaps you recognize layers of presumption and conditioning influencing everything you see. For example, when you were a young child, someone pointed to objects in the environment and gave you a label for “tree,” “book,” “hand,” which you likely repeated after them. This entrainment patiently given by your elders taught you how to navigate the world.
Yet once things are given a label, they are absorbed into our interior platform for reality as a given. We then continue building upon what we already know. Rarely do we consider anything freshly from our original presumption.
I invite you to just be with whatever your eyes light upon. Consider the possibility that you do not really “know” it. You might not even understand it. What else is here if you do not take your presumption to be the reality?
Humility Is Not Humiliation
I have yet to meet someone who did not have to un-learn the tendency to cover over what they do not know. Our ego tends to feel a sense of humiliation, deficiency, shame in admitting, “I don’t know.” This usually relates to the classroom of our childhood.
Things are slowly evolving in the way we educate our young, but the dominant model for so many of us was a linear approach to memorizing and then regurgitating pre-existing knowledge. This can be very helpful for learning times tables and good grammar, but it cannot navigate us into the subtle depths that require us to “hold onto nothing.”
Reflecting on your relationship with “I do not know,” consider what might have happened if you just said this out loud as a child? Sadly, few people report feeling this would have been OK past the age of seven. Perhaps you felt intense pressure to get the “right” answer to the question your teachers posed, and avoid being regarded as stupid, or worse still, punished or ridiculed for not knowing? If you have any hangovers of humiliation from your schooling experience, I encourage you to continue reading this chapter slowly, with particular kindness. Then re-read it again and be sure to do all of the exercises!
Peeling back the sense of humiliation for not knowing is crucial, otherwise it will hold together the subtle pride of presuming “I know” continuing to cover over the truth of your ego’s limitations. This results in efforting to try to lead yourself from within a very limited navigation system, mentally head-butting your way through life. If you sincerely want to receive the blessings of grace, you must give up trying to direct your own awakening process. Simply put — your ego cannot get enlightened.
Befriending the Power of “I Can’t”
Entering the receptive state of Grace requires you to befriend the empty spaces, make friends with the mystery. This begins with accepting it is totally OK when you do not know the answer, do not even know who you really are. If you want your life to blossom into a work of art, admitting that you do not know is a requirement.
Humbly admitting the truth of “I can’t do it — I do not know the way,” while not collapsing, opens the energetic knot of pride in the subtle body at the top of the head. If you do not entertain any shame about this, it ushers you into the receptive state, where your mind is not bound by thought or past perception. Your mind is truly open to boundless vision.
It can feel like you are settling into the soft, vast black silence of the void — being nothing and no one. This is a world away from ego flagellation, or putting yourself down. It is deeply vulnerable, but surprisingly peaceful. All stress disappears.
Soften, Open and Stretch Into Inner Space
Consider the last time you spent the night somewhere new, and had to navigate getting to the bathroom and then back to bed in the middle of the night without turning on the lights. When you cannot navigate from the memory of familiar placement of your own home, perhaps you slow down, and sense into the dark space ahead of you, feeling your way. While you might go slower, if you relax into the dark emptiness rather than tense up and try to remember where things are, somehow the way finds you.
This can give you a feel for stretching into the unfamiliar spaces inside, without referencing thought or history to guide us. You do not have to know how. You do not have to collapse in shame about that. You do not have to contract — just soften, open, stretch into the soft, dark spaces at the edge of “I can’t — I do not know.”
You are stunned, powerless.
You thought you knew what was going on.
Now you realize you don’t have a clue.
You are stopped in your tracks.
Everything within your skin is shaking.
Enter this shaking.
Right here, in the midst of commotion —
Get curious and look around inside with wonder.
Unwind your mind.
All the walls have fallen down.
Go ahead and dissolve.
The One who has always been
Who has seen much worse than this,
Is still here.
— Radiance Sutras (Lorin Roche)
Perhaps even reading these words you begin to feel a soft, stepping back inside to a vast silent spaciousness. Mysteriously, this draws you into right relationship with your source and the rest of life. It purifies your consciousness, helping you be found, ever freshly, by a grace deeper than your mind.
Opening Into the Celestial State of Grace
One of the greatest blessings of my life came after I was powerfully humbled through a brutal and very public divorce, in the months after the awakening in the cave. In this spiritual winter of my life, I had been stripped back to the root of my social standing, all but a few friends, my support system, and pretty much every attachment that was holding up my familiar identity. I found great sustenance sitting with an extraordinary female saint in India.
Siva Sakthi Ammaiyar would give twice daily silent darshan (transmission) in silence, in a simple hall down a noisy side street in Tiruvannamalai, not far from Ramana Maharshi’s ashram. Sitting with my eyes closed in meditation alongside up to forty others, I knew her serene presence had arrived into the room by the calm cool breeze beginning to pervade my consciousness. It let me settle deep into the still waters where nothing is ever rocked. These wordless meetings were so supportive in helping my nervous system begin adjusting to a significantly expanded, new reality for which I had no reference points for, and at the time could not claim to understand.
After three years of sitting with Siva Sakthi as often as I could, I was offered the opportunity of a private meeting. I had no idea what to expect. It was never my way to bow or prostrate at the feet of a guru, as I witnessed many westerners do. Something about that did not feel authentic. Yet the moment I was brought around the flimsy bamboo screen to stand before her petite form, wrapped in a faded orange sari upon a bamboo chair, my body automatically dropped to the floor in full prostration. I wept and shook cathartically, completely awed by the blazing light and purity that was everything, and “I” _ nothing.
Essential Regret for Hidden Arrogance
My weeping was not emotion, not sadness, but inwardly I heard something inside saying, “I’m sorry.” It was not guilt, but a clean recognition of how blind I had been without even really knowing it. This essential regret that had me prostrating was so beautiful, and it naturally contained total forgiveness for my unconscious, arrogant folly of thinking I had ever been the do-er, the owner of anything. In mystical openings since, I have come to see that we pass through a wave of essential regret for our ignorance each time we awaken into a new level of Reality.
With a micro-movement of one of her tiny fingers, my body sat upright before Siva Sakthi. Here, there was no personality, no story, no guru, just nakedly sitting with the true majesty that needed no pomp or ceremony and did not belong to anyone. In this angelic state of pristine purity way beyond “me” and “you,” I understood why my heart had always been so moved by that final line in the Lord’s prayer “for Thine is the power, and the kingdom and the glory, forever and ever — amen.”
The truth of our heart can only be truly satisfied by the Real. There is no substitute. Letting go of the hidden pride of “me” and “my” that tries to direct from the mind, brought alive such a deep reverence for what is. It is so humbling and so heavenly whenever we are pierced open to perceive truly the way things are, beyond any filter.
Perhaps you have had a glimpse of bowing to the mystery, when your newborn was placed into your arms for the very first time. When saying goodbye to someone you love who is dying, whom you intuitively know you have spoken to for the last time, feeling privileged for the gift of all that has passed between you, including the disagreements. Perhaps you have felt humbled by the majesty of nature. The wild, still free places on our planet that have not been manicured by any hand but God’s. How in the face of unarguable reality, your ego just settles back into its rightful place — the back seat of the car, beholding the majesty and gratefully enjoying the ride.
Bowing Into the Mystery: an Inquiry Practice
These set of questions can help you journey through and beyond the stress and struggle of trying to lead yourself across the bridge from ego to essence. They can help melt your subtle pride, and encourage you to empty out of your conditioned mind full of presumption, and soften open into the receptive, not knowing space. They help you to just be here, be still and hold onto nothing, kindly meeting everything that comes up along the way.
You can journey into these sequence of questions as a meditation, or put a timer on for ten minutes and journal your responses. I highly recommend doing them with a spiritual friend you trust, perhaps sitting silently opposite one another first for five minutes or so, and then having your friend offer you the first two questions for at least ten minutes or more:
What area of your life do you not know the way?
See what arises in your heart. What feelings arise as the question moves through you. Remember, there is no right or wrong response, so just be spontaneous and say whatever arrives without editing or feeling you have to rationalize. Your friend simply says “thank you.”
What’s it like if you stay present, presume nothing, and allow not knowing?
Let the question reverberate through your body, noticing the sensations, like heat, tension, energy, tingling… and allow whatever comes to be named. Your friend responds only with “thank you” and then…
Repeat these first two questions for at least ten minutes or more… noticing the insights, memories, feelings, sensations that come. Whatever comes, remember there is nothing you have to fix or do. Just meet everything in the spirit of “thank you.”
If you have been working with a partner, switch roles so that they get to dive within while you hold unconditional space with your presence and “thank you” for everything that arises.
Now that you have exposed the blocks to humility, journey deeper with the following question for at least fifteen minutes. If working with a partner, loop back and forth with this one question:
“What moves you to Bow into the Mystery?”
Again, let the question reverberate through your body, heart, and mind, following the intuitive inner pulse of your own direct experience in detail as it unfolds.
I defy anyone to stay with this question sincerely for any length of time and not begin to feel touched by the blessings of Grace, the felt sense of being given everything we truly need. When we come into intimate contact with the pure reality of existence, it is completely natural to want to bow. To happily settle back into deeper reality and let it have its way with us.
Ultimately, humility not only melts our pride and breaks down our ignorance that makes us dense to receiving, humility gives us back to the naked truth of what we are. Humbly bowing to the mystery brings us into right relationship with the source of our being, even if we have no formal name or prayer for That. Beautifully, it also brings us into right relationship with one another, with nature, with life itself. We become soft, peaceful, fulfilled in the recognition that we are at the inner fountain — and always invited to take a deep drink of Grace.
This article is an excerpted chapter from Miranda’s forthcoming book, The Way of Grace: The Transforming Power of Ego Relaxation.
Miranda Macpherson is a contemporary spiritual teacher, counselor, and author of the spiritual guidebook, Boundless Love. Miranda, who has been teaching internationally since 1995, is known for her depth of presence, clarity, and refined capacity to guide people into direct experience of the sacred.
Miranda’s work is a synthesis of self-inquiry, spiritual psychology, devotion, and meditation practice offered with feminine grace that embraces our everyday human experience as a gateway into the depths of our true nature. Through a blend of silent transmission and articulate teaching, she leads ongoing programs oriented to guiding people into direct spiritual experience while providing a practical map for actualizing our realization into daily life. Drawing from the ancient lineages of Advaita and mystical Christianity, as well as from more recent wisdom teachings such as A Course in Miracles, Miranda leads from the ground of unconditional love and compassion for our humanity, emphasizing receptivity, discrimination, and surrender.
Click here to visit Miranda’s website.