Tracy secretly felt better than everyone at the networking group. The others were not as polished as she or as well dressed and were quite a bit older. Later, when she found out the entire group was composed of successful business owners, while she herself had been unable to get her own business off the ground, she felt shamefully embarrassed that she had been so quick to judge.
In therapy, David came to realize the part he’s played in his relationship failures. This painfully didn’t jive with his previous belief that the women in his life had been at fault. Claire became aware that the joke she’d played had really been an attack as it cost her one of her best friends.
In my experience, the spiritual path is a long chain of one such humiliating realization after another. I’ve never heard anyone say this, but as I’ve shared this observation with others, it seems to be distressingly common. What you thought you were, you are not. Every fantasy you had about yourself gets busted. You have not been particularly loving. You are not as great or as important as you imagined. Other people could, for the most part, not give a fig about what you eat, what you are wearing, whether or not you are a good dancer.
Everything you were clinging to about your identity is challenged. Over time, you realize how unloving you’ve been, how arrogant, and how much smaller than you dreamed. You’re never going to be a celebrity, rich, loved by all, or as successful as you wanted to be.
Our culture promotes narcissism, competitiveness, surface over depth. Even our spirituality is often superficial: we take pride in attending the hippest yoga class taught by the most prestigious teacher; in how our bodies look, in how superior our path, and in how cleanly we eat. Spiritual people are often competitive over which whole foods products they buy and whether they and others are up on the latest food fad – coconut water, coconut oil, raw foods, green drinks.
When we suffer the true humiliation that comes from seeing our arrogance, it is life changing. We become right-sized, not seeing ourselves as too big, which is inflated, or too small, which is groveling. When we feel the sting of realization that we have hurt people with our casual rejection, our superficial judgments or our lack of love, our hearts can break and we can share ourselves more readily. We can confront our narcissism and our enormous selfishness. That is truly progress on the spiritual path.
© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth