Dignity and Humility
Lord knows, this life is full of undignified experiences.
At one of the spectrum are minor affronts to dignity. A rainstorm ruins your clothes. You pass gas in yoga class. You lock your keys in the car. Moving along the spectrum: you bounce a check. You have a fender-bender. You get sick. You get audited. Further along: you lose your job. You need emergency surgery. You get divorced. And further: someone you love dies. You suffer a long, painful battle with an incurable disease. You lose your home. You lose your mind. You're incarcerated. The greatest indignities, at the far end of the spectrum, involve assault, violence, war, enslavement, rape, murder, mutilation, torture.
The Latin root of the word indignity means "unworthy". When we suffer an indignity, our self-worth is challenged. Our boundaries are crossed. Our wholeness is diminished.
While life is full of indignities, Life itself has an innate, uncompromising Dignity. Life has a deep order, a sequence, a pattern. DNA and the Periodic Table are examples of Life’s stately, measured progression. Fibonacci numbers are another great example. (Don’t ask me to explain Fibonacci numbers. I can only understand them very slightly on days when I am very smart.)
YOU have an innate, uncompromising Dignity. Here's how you know: some experiences make you feel beloved, powerful, and whole. Some make you feel worthless, powerless, and broken. Dignity helps you discern which is which. Dignity tells you when the integrity of your Being is compromised. It is the longing to embody the world's order and beauty. It is part of the impulse to thrive.
Humor is helpful in handling life's minor indignities. But some affronts are so grave that they cannot be laughed at. How do we integrate inexplicable, painful, degrading, demoralizing experiences?
Paradoxically, humility restores dignity.
Humility comes from the Latin root "humus", which means earth or soil. In the Jewish faith, one way to "rekosher" a utensil is to thrust it into the earth. The earth cleanses and sanctifies--that's why we put our dead there.
Cultivating humility means acknowledging our earthiness. We acknowledge that we are matter as well as spirit. We honor our tender mortality. We cherish our flesh, even knowing that it can be torn and ruptured. We acknowledge our limitations, material and spiritual. We cherish the moment. We cherish the seemingly-small gifts of the universe, of embodiment: the touch of the earth. The warmth of the sun. A smile. A memory. The intimacy of our own flesh. Perhaps the kindness of strangers.
The thing is, Life beats the crap out of us. She breathes us till She's done. She uses up our tender bodies. This isn't a mistake or a miscalculation! Life knows what She’s doing. We are not sullied by the indignities we experience, and our humanity is not diminished. She knows that we're not made LESS by experience. We're made MORE.
Her finest offerings can’t be tasted in an ivory tower. And I’m not gonna sit out the game because I’m afraid to lose.