Learning Humility from Life
by Michael McGinnis
Misfortune humiliates some people, while others learn humility. When trouble happens, you can react either way. You might believe that life has abused you, made you a victim and that you have been humiliated. Or you might understand — from the same experience — that you have learned something. Being prepared to set aside old notions and be taught by life is learning humility. The choice you make depends on your attitude.
A few years ago I went to Russia to visit a friend that I had been writing to. I like to read about the countries I visit. I had read quite a lot about Russia. There was much crime in the cities, and I was going to the largest city, Moscow. Tourists and obviously rich people were often robbed. So, I bought a money belt which I could wear under my shirt and took it on my trip. I wore it on the first trip out of my hotel to do some sightseeing. That trip was fine — similar to walking in other large cities like Vancouver. But that money belt felt awkward. Maybe the threat of crime was overrated, and besides I figured my karma wasn't that bad! So I didn't wear the money belt on the next outing, which was just one block from the hotel to a grocery store.
As my Russian friend and I walked to the store, we were approached by about 8 or 10 boys, maybe 10 to 12 years old. One came up to me on my right side and stuck his hand out, palm up, begging for money. At the same time, the rest of the group bunched up around me, walking very close alongside. I couldn't speak Russian, so I just shook my head to mean no and kept walking. Immediately several pairs of hands grabbed my arms and held them motionless by my sides. I tried to move them but couldn't! A hand went into one of my pockets, found something there, and took it out. The group released me and ran away. I had no desire to chase them. My Russian friend had not been touched. By now we were just outside the store, so we went inside. I checked my pockets to see what I had lost. They had taken my traveler's cheques, but not my cash, credit card or passport. I was shaken by the robbery, but my friend's calm was a good clue to what my own reaction should be.
When I am very surprised or upset by something in my life, I most often do a spiritual exercise to help me put my attention on the Mahanta, the Living ECK Master. The Mahanta's very high spiritual consciousness allows him to work with all of his students on the inner planes — the worlds of thought, emotions, dreams and intuition — and beyond the seeming barriers of time or space. Silently singing HU to myself moves my consciousness away from negative reactions like fear or anger, back to awareness of the blessings of the Holy Spirit, or ECK, in my life. After doing the spiritual exercise for a few minutes, my heart opened and my confidence to deal with my security returned. I now recognized the robbery, where nothing critical was taken, as a warning to take the opportunity to be more careful with my valuables. I also recognized the protection that I had received from the Mahanta during the experience — I was not hurt, and the robbers took the one item I could most easily afford to lose. But it was also important for me to realize that despite the spiritual protection I received, it was still my responsibility to do what was in my power to improve my safety.
I realized that it was pointless to act like a humiliated victim — waste my vacation time in a police station or hiding in my hotel room. Instead, the robbery was a chance to learn greater responsibility for myself. By using some imagination, I separated my important documents when I carried them, so losing any one would not be a disastrous situation. I also dressed very much like a Russian man — by not showing cameras or other expensive items, I fit in with the crowd. And it worked: a couple of times Russians stopped me and asked (in Russian) for directions or the time! They were surprised when I said in English that I didn't understand, and I asked my friend to talk to them.
We have much to gain by not thinking of ourselves as victims. It is hard for many people to accept that their problems and hardships in life are of their own creation. The idea of past lives explains so much of what seems to be the unfairness of life. Our present troubles are the effects of our past actions, even in previous lifetimes which we can't recall. Students of ECKANKAR learn to appreciate that the Holy Spirit of God is teaching us through all the experiences of life, good and bad.
Adversity is not meant as punishment — it works like a mirror to show us the kind of person we are inside. Those who respond to misfortune by hiring a lawyer to find someone to blame often put themselves in a box. They can trap themselves in an entrenched position of humiliated pride. Then it is harder to learn the lesson that the difficult experience was intended to provide. Humility opens the door to learning from everyone and everything around you, even from misfortune.