A humble heart is also a grateful heart. Gratitude and humility are inseparable. To seek humility is a noble goal, but it is as elusive as the idea of enlightenment. Once you think you’ve achieved it, you realize it has slipped just beyond your grasp. Humility is an outward measure of an open spirit. The ego would have you brag that you are humble, even if only to yourself. But, if you believe what the ego says, then your humility will be overtaken and the subtle force of pride will slowly rise to the top.
Humility is one of those qualities that is perhaps best left unsought. But, if we were to try to add it to our repertoire of positive characteristics, then the search belongs not within, but without. Humble people see themselves as no greater or no worse than any other person. They do not believe they are special in the sense that they are better than someone else. All people are seen, and treated by them, as perfect creations of The Divine, and as such, are worthy of love and respect.
This is what is meant when we say we seek humility outside of ourselves. Humility is characterized by the way we treat other people and by the extent to which we give love and acceptance to everyone.
Appreciation goes a long way in helping us accomplish the tasks assigned to us whether those tasks are job related or Spirit related, and often they are the same. One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Leo Buscaglia and it states, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest accomplishment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
Before I sat down to write these words, I was the recipient of two kind words: “Thank you.” I was being thanked for something I had written that touched another person’s life. The fact that that person took a few seconds out of their day to let me know I had helped in some small way was enough to bring tears of joy to my eyes.
Stone Twelve begins with the words, “I am grateful,” and ends with the sentence, “I thank those who have guided me on my path.” How important it is to show our appreciation to those who have given us a word of encouragement, a hand to hold, an ear to hear, and a heart to share their love with us.
Guilt is a relative term that has different meanings to different societies and in different times. In Hinduism, the cow is thought to be sacred, and most Hindus refrain from eating beef. If someone from that culture were to eat beef, they would probably experience guilt, and even shame, or condemnation. Some of their fellow Hindus might judge them and even refuse to associate with them. Their belief that a cow is sacred creates their guilt.
Most Christians don’t experience guilt when they eat a juicy piece of steak. The difference is in the underlying belief system. The cow is not a sacred animal in the Christian religion. But, if Christians understood the reasons why the cow is thought to be sacred, we might decide those reasons were valid. We might change our minds about whether or not we should eat beef, and we most certainly would have a better understanding and a deeper appreciation for the Hindus belief.
Likewise, if Hindus understood the reasons Christians don’t consider the cow as sacred, it might change their thinking and allow for understanding and graciousness concerning what appears to them as a barbaric custom. Where does guilt come into play in all of this? It doesn’t. Or, at least it shouldn’t. We respect the beliefs of other religions and cultures and try to understand them—not change them to our way of thinking, speaking, and acting.
Guilt is defined differently by different cultures, but also by the different times in which we live. In the past, slavery was tolerated and accepted by many people. For the most part, those who owned slaves felt no guilt. As time passed, people came to realize that slavery was wrong. In this situation we see a positive side of guilt. To take away one’s freedom and to demand hard work without pay or hope of advancement came to be understood as a cancer to society.
As more and more people became enlightened to the truth that all men (and women) were created equally, the nation’s conscience was disturbed and changes happened. Guilt played a positive role, and, even after slaves were set free, guilt continued to play a useful role to those who decided to help right the wrongs that had been committed against their fellowmen.
Step Eight says that we are to “Seek forgiveness from those we hurt unless doing so would cause further harm.” But, once we determine that this is something we are meant to do, we can let go of any hold that guilt has had over us. It takes time, but often it begins with simply the intention to make right what was wrong. And, if circumstances are such that we are unable to right the wrongs, then intention and prayer become the tools to set us free.
When we consider guilt from a religious perspective, we find that this tool has often been misused by religions and religious leaders to keep their flocks in line. One way we can fall prey to this abuse is when we believe the pastor is the master. When we put all our faith in one particular religious leader, we open ourselves to the mistakes and flaws they carry with them.
Another way we can fall prey to religious abuse is when we give away our power to think and make decisions for ourselves. By letting the religious leader and his faithful followers dictate what we think, we close our minds to any different opinions. These opposing opinions might also include the voice of reason and the voice of The Divine. Any attempt to think outside of the basket into which we’ve placed our religious eggs is met with guilt, judgment, and often condemnation.
This is the negative side of guilt—the ugly, manipulative side of guilt. When we fall prey to this abuse, we will come to believe that no matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, we will never be good enough. Our self-worth will be attacked, and our every decision and action will come under scrutiny, with ourselves being the most severe judge of our behaviors.
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