Philosophy Tuesday

“And once I got there I had to make a hard stop at self-knowledge’s first product: humility.

Do you know what that is, sweet pea? To be humble? The word comes from the Latin words humilis and humus. To be down low. To be of the earth. To be on the ground. That’s where I went when I wrote the last word of my first book. Straight onto the cool tile floor to weep. I sobbed and I wailed and I laughed through my tears. I didn’t get up for half an hour. I was too happy and grateful to stand.

I hope you’ll think hard about that, honey bun. If you had a two-sided chalkboard in your living room I’d write humility on one side and surrender on the other for you. That’s what I think you need to find and do to get yourself out of the funk you’re in. The most fascinating thing to me about your letter is that buried beneath all the anxiety and sorrow and fear and self-loathing, there’s arrogance at its core… You loathe yourself, and yet you’re consumed by the grandiose ideas you have about your own importance. You’re up too high and down too low. Neither is the place where we get any work done.

We get the work done on the ground level. And the kindest thing I can do for you is to tell you to get your ass on the floor. I know it’s hard to write, darling. But it’s harder not to. The only way you’ll find out if you “have it in you” is to get to work and see if you do. The only way to override your “limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude” is to produce. You have limitations. You are in some ways inept. This is true of every writer, and it’s especially true of writers who are twenty-six. You will feel insecure and jealous. How much power you give those feelings is entirely up to you.

Writing is hard for every last one of us… Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.

You need to do the same, dear sweet arrogant beautiful crazy talented tortured rising star glowbug. That you’re so bound up about writing tells me that writing is what you’re here to do. And when people are here to do that they almost always tell us something we need to hear. I want to know what you have inside you. I want to see the contours of your second beating heart.”

— Cheryl Strayed

(Adapted from the amazing original essay which can be found here and was republished in the equally amazing book Tiny Beautiful Things.  The essay in its totality is a wonderful and powerful completion for this mini-series on humility (part one; part two), the getting down to the ground understanding on what humility is, how to harness it in our lives, and what wonders it makes possible for us all.)

Philosophy Tuesday

Continuing from last week…

The other thing about humility that really trips us up is its seeming proximity to humiliation.  While the words do share a common Latin root, their meanings are, however, far apart.  While in some ways humiliation might help prompt us to be humble, being humble is not the same as the harsh, floor-dropping, painful loss of pride, self-respect, or dignity of humiliation.

And let’s be frank here for a moment – being humiliated hurts.  It’s not a pleasant time.  No wonder we’d avoid humility if it even carries a whiff of that floor-dropping monster!  Being humiliated leaves us feeling lonely, unworthy, and unwanted.  We are excluded.  It is a break in belonging.

So it’s good to make clear the distinction (again, despite the fact they sound similar) between the unpleasant humiliation and the centering and peaceful realm of being humble.

There’s a really funny bonus thing here though: all that unpleasant stuff about humiliation?  That is exactly what being humble prevents, for if we don’t have some overblown, aggrandized, conceited view of our self, then we can’t be knocked down.  So while we often think that humiliation is foist upon us by others, the agency is really ours by choosing humility.  If we don’t put on airs, the floor can’t open up beneath us – we’re already grounded.

Being humble connects us to others.  It allows us to be related to one another, without the specter of better/worse, or worthy/unworthy.  Though cultivating humility, we get to share in our common humanity through our unique self-expressions.

(One more bit next week to finish off this triptych.)

* An interesting addition:  Arrogant (ie non-humble) people who feel threatened (and thus are in fear of being humiliated) will lash out to attack or humiliate others in an effort to retain their fragile façade.  Again, a humble person is resistant to being humiliated, for with a level-headed view of themselves there’s nothing to shatter.

Architecture Monday

Check out this nifty school right next to the California Science Centre.  Adaptive reuse + a new wing by Morphosis.  And as a Morphosis building you know you’re going to get a lot of hyper expressive screens, stairways, and outdoor pavilions, but this comes with a bonus covered courtyard nestled within the historical structure plus green roofs and a berm that embraces the new building.

Next to a science centre, art museum, olympic stadium, and soon to be motion picture museum, plus a DC-8 as an entry piece, and nifty architecture… pretty darn cool.

The Dr. Theodore Alexander Science Center School by Morphosis

Philosophy Tuesday

Humility.  Something we often have a rather… odd relationship with.  Starting with: What is it even?

One thing it is not is about erasing ourselves.  It is not about the total diminishment of the self.  It’s not about becoming invisible or meek.  I think it is often viewed in this way thanks to a false-dichotomy trap of taking humility as being the “opposite” of conceited, arrogant, self-absorbed, dismissive, and cocky.

But it is not.  Instead, humility is being modest and about being real.

I would instead place humility as being on the middle path.  It is between being arrogant and being effacing.  I am reminded of a phrase we used at our Kung Fu school: “Practice with a confident, not conceited, attitude.”  When we are being humble we can still be confident, and participatory, and legit, and opinionated, and all of those things.  At the same time, we also stay mindful of our level of expertise, of what we don’t know and of what we can learn (and that we can ALWAYS learn), of the contributions of others, of the role fortune plays, and so on.

In this way we contribute and express ourselves within, and conscious, of the larger game.  We assert ourselves while remaining respectful, open, and in tune with what’s so.  We simply have a modest opinion of our own importance – neither overblown nor undervalued.

More next week….

Architecture Monday

An old and run-down church.  Stripped to its bones, leaving bare its wonderfully rugged stone construction.  Soaring upwards, it imparts a sense of solidity and longevity.

Into that verticality is placed an elevated chapel, raised and ensconced in a forest of wood.  Beside and above, a new elongated concrete barrel vault hovers away from the existing walls, mediating the light from the windows and providing acoustics for the choir.

The rest of the furnishings are equally slender and spare, playing well as a counterpoint to the rough walls.  Opposite the new chapel in the apse is a remarkable focal point:  panels of thin marble create a screen before a full-height window, a glowing ribbon blazing into the interior.

This one isn’t quite an adaptive reuse, and it isn’t quite a renovation either… perhaps a re-inhabitation?  Whatever we might classify it, it’s splendid.

Imaculada and Cheia de Graça Chapel by Cerejeira Fontes Architects

Philosophy Tuesday

“Here’s what I have learned after 40 years of making stuff for a living.  I can break a milling bit on this mill, I can be really REALLY mad at myself and the world at the fact that this screw-up has taken me more time and I gotta redo this thing and I can feel all those feelings and I can still, in the mist of that emotional turmoil, walk over to my end mills by 64th drawer and pick up another one and bring it back over and take out the old one and toss it out, put this back in… Just perform the actions.  I don’t feel good, but I don’t necessarily have to feel good in order to proceed.”

Adam Savage

 

What I love about this quote is how it expresses the beauty that comes from integration.  To experience all of our humanness, without denying anything, without resisting anything (and giving them unforeseen control), and without capitulating to anything (and giving them foreseen control).  To be whole and not suffering, engaging all of ourselves as we move forward, creating as we go.