Grand Slam: A Lesson in Humility

Life has a way of keeping you humble. That said, in humility is strength. Allow me to explain…

I moved to Atlanta from Los Angeles in the mid-1990s and like anyone in a new city, I spent the first few weeks making new friends and establishing a new routine. Having always been active in sports, I joined a number of pickup soccer games (which incidentally helped me brush up on my Spanish) and decided to try my hand at tennis.

Tennis took a distant third to soccer, surfing and rollerblading during my years in Southern California, so it had been some time since I had set foot on a tennis court. Never one to shrink from a challenge, I had my racket restrung, bought some tennis shoes and headed for the nearest ALTA try outs.

If you’ve spent any time in Atlanta, you might have seen the ubiquitous tennis ball magnets on minivans and SUVs. Atlantans are crazy about tennis. They take tennis seriously, yet manage to have a lot of fun doing it.

At any rate, I tried out for one of the intermediate levels and thought I did pretty well in my matches, despite the years of rust. The fellow I played beat me, but not by much (despite his left-handedness!). I had to wait a bit for confirmation of my placement, and it was on that warm spring day, while sitting at a court-side picnic table that I had one of my most quietly humbling sporting moments.

The same fellow I played was trying out two levels up, with his right hand! I was floored, but impressed by the fellow who treated me so kindly on the court. And as with every humbling experience I’ve ever had, I left smiling inwardly despite feeling awkward on the surface.

I once heard it said something to the effect that “pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven will grow in you.” If that is the case, then something died in me that day and something even better took root.

Humility and Mastery

Last evening I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful surprise 60th birthday party hosted by friends of mine in honor of a man who is deeply loved and respected by his friends and whose life has been shaped by his evolving relationship with the most tenderhearted of nature’s creatures, horses.

It’s rare these days to meet a man in whom humility and mastery walk freely, but my friend, Jamie, graciously evinces both. He speaks a language that both horses and riders understand and his love for both makes him a nonpareil as both a friend and a teacher and I find the precious few hours spent in the ring with Jamie to be the most engaging and convivial of my entire week.

I’ve occasionally heard Jamie voice a sentiment similar to something Colonel Alois Podhasky said in his insightful book My Horses, My Teachers:

From all these episodes and experiences within a space of time longer than a half a century I learned to understand and appreciate the horse. I have come to value his qualities and to tolerate or to pass with indulgence over his weaknesses, which are so insignificant compared with his honesty and affection, his good will, loyalty and undeniable share of intelligence. My horses not only taught me riding, but they also made me understand many a wisdom of life besides.

and I cannot help but share with you this morning that what Jamie has learned from his years of experience with these marvelous creatures and their peculiar owners and riders has had a significant influence on my life over the last few years.

Thank you for doing what you do, Jamie, for being who you are and for making such a difference in the lives of so many and…Happy Birthday!


Humility and Gratitude

Even if you are good at something, you will still have the experience of hitting a ceiling, breaking through and then having to face the turbulence and discomfort of function at the new level. That process is best met in the spirit of humility and gratitude.

It’s fine to celebrate when you reach a new level of function, but you are wise not to let your relative success and momentary comfort morph into conceit. The energy of the “rush” felt after a breakthrough can be invested in future progress if it is not diverted into vainglory.


When the Sage Rules

Dao De Jing – Chapter 66

If the sage would guide the people, he must serve with humility.
If he would lead them, he must follow behind.
In this way when the sage rules, the people will not feel oppressed;
When he stands before them, they will not be harmed.
The whole world will support him and will not tire of him.

Because he does not compete,
He does not meet competition.

The attitudes you hold in relation to those to whom you are accountable tend to shape the attitudes held toward you by others. That’s not to say that you are the root cause of every ill spirit directed your way, but it is worth taking an honest look at yourself to make sure you didn’t have it coming to you.

If anything, leadership provides those who rise to the occasion with regular opportunities to refine.

A Just and Reasonable Modesty

A just and reasonable modesty does not only recommend eloquence, but sets off every great talent which a man can be possessed of.” ~ Joseph Addison

When you develop talents and cultivate new qualities of character, more power can flow through you. That power, in turn, allows for greater influence. That influence can be both empowering and intoxicating.

Modesty is a prophylactic against the abuse of that power. Of the many qualities of character that can be cultivated and mastered, modesty mustn’t be overlooked.

Conceit spoils the finest genius. There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long; even if it is, the consciousness of possessing and using it well should satisfy one, and the great charm of all power is modesty.” ~ Louisa May Alcott


Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

I realized during a riding lesson today that the old adage “practice makes perfect” isn’t always true. If you practice incorrectly, for example, you can spend a lifetime attempting to perfect something that is unattainable based on a flawed approach. Horseback riding is fraught with such possibilities, for it is one of those activities that requires the harmonization of two living, sentient creatures – man and horse – as opposed to other sports like tennis that involve man and an inanimate object that behaves the same way every time you pick it up.

Enter the notion of “perfect practice.”

What is perfect practice? For starters, perfect practice demands a perspective on the goal at hand. In the case of horseback riding, an old master is always several steps ahead of his charge and is mindful of the little adjustments that must be made to maintain efficient progress toward the goal. A new rider like myself, however, finds himself regularly in a catch-22 where he is desirous of movement toward a goal while lacking the tools – the sensitivity, self-control and technique – to move swiftly from where he is to where he would like to be.

Enter the godsends: trainers, teachers, coaches, guides and mentors.

Apprenticeship is my favorite form of learning. If the student is sufficiently humble and docile, the presence of a mentor can greatly reduce the learning curve, sparing both man and horse from needless trial and error. Such an arrangement is as near perfect as any. There will still be trial and error as the student develops the “feel” for that which he must master to move on, but the watchful and knowing eyes of a well-trained teacher can shave years off of a learning process.

Perfect practice also requires that you get “out of yourself.”

Learning is more than a conscious process. Have you ever caught yourself focusing too much on the learning opportunity at hand? The more supple you are mentally speaking, the more quickly you learn. If you become tense, overly focused on the minutiae of some task to the exclusion of fluidity in the bigger picture, you rick restricting or even blocking the currents of inspiration and realization that comes as your subconscious mind becomes ordered in relation to a task and thereby supportive of your conscious efforts. Frustrations bloom in the soil of tension.

Beating yourself up during practice never helps.

If you endeavor to learn something new, give thought to the nature of your practice. Don’t just plod through it mindlessly and if you must practice on your own, have a plan! And if matters don’t go according to plan, as is often the case, don’t be afraid to exercise your intuition and determine how to proceed based on the unanticipated factors.

Perfect practice can make perfect if you release your inhibitions and limitations when they come to light. Stay relaxed, stay focused and forget about yourself and the world will be your oyster!

The Kingship of Self-Control II

Every step in the progress of the world has been a new “control.” It has been escaping from the tyranny of a fact, to the understanding and mastery of that fact. For ages man looked in terror at the lightning flash; today he has begun to understand it as electricity, a force he has mastered and made his slave. The million phases of electrical invention are but manifestations of our control over a great force. But the greatest of all “control” is self-control.

At each moment of man’s life he is either a King or a slave. As he surrenders to a wrong appetite, to any human weakness; as he falls prostrate in hopeless subjection to any condition, to any environment, to any failure, he is a slave. As he day by day crushes out human weakness, masters opposing elements within him, and day by day re-creates a new self from the sin and folly of his past,—then he is a King. He is a King ruling with wisdom over himself. Alexander conquered the whole world except,—Alexander. Emperor of the earth, he was the servile slave of his own passions.” ~ William George Jordan

We recently considered the matter of self-sabotage and how important it is that you begin to recognize those areas in your life where you tend to self-destruct based on crooked habits of thought and behavior. Self-sabotage is one of the most destructive of human tendencies and it gobbles up human potential faster than any dictator, controlling spouse or overbearing parent.

Self-sabotage thrives wherever there is a deficiency of self-control in the soil of your being. Once you recognize an area of deficiency, the best remedy is often one that does not attack the behavior directly, as self-sabotaging strategies are often (1) well-defended both consciously and subconsciously and (2) complicated in the sense that they create internal imbalances to which the body, mind and heart grows accustomed by means of compensatory strategies.

So where do you start? You must, as we considered yesterday, meet the issue in the strength of humility. True humility is not saying “I suck,” “I’m only human” or “I am a horrible, flawed person,” it is that quiet place in you which allows for the solution and the power to get you there to well up from within. So doing affords you the opportunity to address the matter at the deeper causative levels, the flaws in your bedrock character.

Such an approach requires focus and follow through, especially when body, mind and heart are not in clear agreement as to the need for adjustment. It involves a supple single-mindedness, and an internal stance wherein you consecrate yourself to a higher vision for what is possible through you. In one sense, you have to care enough about others and the fact that you will be free of an unnecessary limitation in your service to them and in another, you have to come to terms with the fact that you are an extraordinarily valuable person.

Sin is nothing more than missing the mark in your expression. It is an area that your body, mind and heart have not yet learned to accommodate and magnify the perfection resident within you. Yep, I said it, the “p” word.” Perfection. It is in there whether you are ready to admit it to yourself or not. When you err, don’t beat yourself up, instead, allow yourself to be lifted up. Yield to the deepest and highest impulse in you which call to you from on high…not from some mysterious place, but from the pinnacle of your understanding and the peak of your performance.

There is no reason why every aspect of your living cannot hew to the same high standard. Far too many people allow themselves to be a mixed bag – excelling in some areas while settling for inferiority in others – rather than presenting a united front, where every aspect of expression is squared to the highest and finest of which they are aware in any given moment. If you are brilliant, why do you swear? If you are blessed with physical strength, why do you smoke? If you are dedicated to moving forward, why do you constantly look backward?

Any time there is a dichotomy within you, there is a leak in the container that is you. You cannot move from where you are now to a state of balanced an unflappable self-control while tolerating these leaks and self-sabotaging tendencies. They sap your energy, your focus and your momentum, all of which are necessary to sustained forward movement.

Dare to plug them specifically and quietly, that the holes in your character might be filled in and that your body, heart and mind might move from being a colander to being a perfectly shaped and leak-resistant container. This container – your body, mind and heart in absolute agreement – becomes a pressure-cooker of sorts for your radiant life expression.