Finding strength through humility

The stars aligned recently and a woman who had been rather mean to me opened up to me about a personal crisis, almost in tears. I reached through and consoled her. I was supportive and empathetic to this person who had cast a shadow over one facet of my life only a few months ago. The interaction was unexpected and ironic. Digging below a conflict to see humanity required strength from both of us as we pushed through barriers.

Part of my graduate school experience was a breaking down and a building up to be something different. At times I was reduced to tears, after which I would gather myself and go back to the papers and the lab bench. It was humbling to learn that type of perseverance and stamina. By the end, I felt as if I were emerging from pupation to be something with wings.

I still remember the terrible things my mother said to me as a teenager. Words like knives. Some scars never fully heal but become part of the toughness of skin. About 18 months ago, we moved my mother closer to us so we could better oversee her care at a local nursing facility. I would be lying if I said this new role is not challenging psychologically. It can be downright weathering and I can almost feel the patina on my character after swallowing so much negativity and history.

It can be amazing we don’t choke on the swallowing of unhealthy things and the swallowing of pride. Yet each time I humble myself to a situation I find I somehow become more. It becomes easier to recognize the things that can’t touch my core. It becomes easier to go beneath the surface to touch the fount of deep happiness. Words can’t break me and circumstances can’t break me unless I give myself over to them. The irony is that it’s not always brute strength that overcomes obstacles, it’s the making oneself flow like water that wears away stones. Thanks, Lao Tzu.

But it’s not just a certain malleability or humility that fills the well of inner strength. I’m discovering how sharing one’s story can support this evolution. As a private person, this is something that doesn’t come naturally to me.

Twice today I shared aspects of my life with individuals who have historically misunderstood me. In both cases, my sharing was met with kindness. This was not so much a swallowing of ego as much as a reaching through a wall of protectiveness. Perhaps energy spent on strengthening a shell is less energy that could be spent tending to one’s insides. I’m still working through this one.

Recently at a spiritual retreat we divided into groups to discuss times when we felt closest to God. We shared life histories. I shared choices I’ve made because of circumstances. I don’t often contribute to these types of group conversations because, frankly, my sharing seems to inhibit other people from sharing since few people can relate. In this case, I went against my inclination towards privacy and the group was clearly surprised by my path. At the end of the day we offered affirmations for each person. My favorite was being told I have “galactic strength”. Perhaps sharing these things holds up a mirror that allows another view that our own self-perception.

It’s important to remember that what happened in the past matters less than what happens in the present and future. Like the breaths we take and keep taking. The repeated breaking down and sharing – sometimes in spite of logic to the contrary – can let unexpected things be built from the ruins.

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