Why is Humility so Underrated?

from Huffington Post

Insight often arises from simultaneously holding two seemingly contradictory notions — and then allowing a deeper understanding to develop. Take, for example, David R. Hawkins’ idea that, “A universal characteristic of genius is humility.” Generally we don’t equate genius with being humble. If anything, we expect the opposite, and are pleasantly surprised when we find a counterexample. But this presumption is actually relatively modern. The writer Elizabeth Gilbert talks about how ancient Romans believed that a genius was actually an invisible, divine entity who would assist a person in a creative work. In effect, this view positions a person as an instrument of their work, as opposed to the supreme creator of it; built-in to this perspective was a way of fostering humility within the gift of extraordinary capability.
In today’s increasingly connected world, humility becomes relevant not only for us as individuals, but also for groups. A recent study at Carnegie Mellon University showed that collective intelligence had little to do with the IQs of individuals in that group. So even if you bring together the smartest people, there is no guarantee of better team performance; in fact, it’s been shown that team outcomes have much more to do with how skillfully people collaborate. Individual motivations for actively engaging in a group effort lie at the heart of effective collaboration. Such motivation is rooted in how much value we ascribe outside of ourselves. A key aspect of this is humility: it motivates a right-sized assessment of our own abilities and an awareness of our limitations. A self-view that recognizes its limitations is vital in order for real synergy to occur. This is what allows us to be receptive to other people’s contributions, knowing that they often augment our own. In a group, the more that people are rooted in a mindset of humility, the greater the potential synergy.
It works in the other direction as well: the more we experience synergy, the more we recognize our interdependence, and the more likely we are to reinforce a sense of self-value that is real. An inflated self-valuation is clearly problematic, but so is a faltering sense of self-worth; both extremes feed into an insecurity that becomes more vested in proving value rather than simply adding it.
A conscious humility, one in which we accurately know our boundaries, makes us explicitly aware of what we do have to offer. This appreciation of our abilities is important, and yet, there’s a significant distinction between strengthening a known and limited self — and growing beyond it. As columnist David Brooks recently articulated in his encouraging survey of recent psychological research on humility, “Self-affirmation is about being proud and powerful and in control. Self-transcendence is about being engaged in activities in which the self is melded into a task or a relationship.” Viewed in this light, the problem isn’t in having a sense of self, but rather in being identified with its limitations, and therefore being unable to go beyond them. When we have a static and inflexible identity, what we experience becomes filtered and severely reduced. A repeated affirmation of this limited self is ego — and its fuel is habituated thought. We are what we think.
To soften the boundaries of identity, we must first become aware of our thoughts, and then recognize how certain thought patterns color our perception. It’s a flavor of what psychologists call inattentional blindness. In the classic Invisible Gorilla experiment, study participants are asked to watch a group of people pass a ball around. As they watch the video, a man in a gorilla suit walks across the screen, and yet half of the people don’t notice it. There is a similar but subtler inattentional blindness at the level of our thoughts, and this is where deepening in awareness is crucial. It allows us to tune in to the totality of our dynamic present experience. We then have more conscious choices in what we engage with and a greater freedom to choose our own responses — internal and external.
While thoughts may be hard to tune in to in a vacuum, in reality, the mind and body are inextricably connected. What we actually sense on the body-level tends to be much more tangible. Sensations within the body tug us firmly back into the moment and serve as a proxy for mindfulness. When someone says something that we perceive as a threat to our ego, we can actually sensitize ourselves to the physical sensations associated with that emotion. Anxiety often translates to a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach, and with anger we feel red-hot. It all happens in a split second. But if we are mindful of our thoughts and sensations, we then have a lever to stop the flow of previously subconscious reactivity, and we actually discover space.
Perhaps that’s what humility really comes down to — space around our perception of the world, as well as our own selves. Space to hold conflicting information, take in other people’s views and, to borrow Bruce Lee’s words, take the shape of the container we find ourselves in. Humility gives us permission to withhold conclusion and realize that what we are is always still emerging. And this is good.

‘Each Moment Is New’: Lessons from the Front Lines of Motherhood

(Reposted with thanks from Huffington Post)

I have no idea how to do this.

I realize this truth at some point every day. When it hits me, I get roller-coaster belly and jelly knees, as the ground I thought I was standing on is suddenly gone. All that I had so proudly figured out yesterday no longer applies today. The knowledge that I’m flying blind, winging it, somehow left in charge of the entire well-being of this tiny human, is petrifying.

Before I had a baby I was barely able to keep plants alive. In fact, I prided myself on it. I was too full of myself, my work, to attend to the needs of dependents. I never babysat, didn’t have any aspirations for spending large amounts of time with kids and was uncomfortable holding newborns.

But now I have a daughter, a baby girl who is hungry, tired and screaming in the back seat because I still can’t figure out how to run errands, take care of the dog, see friends and get home in time for dinner and a bath before she passes out with tear-streaked cheeks squished against the car seat. At those moments, I close my eyes and tell myself (out loud) that I am not failing at this — but I usually don’t believe it.

This is the terrifying side of motherhood, the underbelly that no one talks about, or at least not in public circles. Sister-to-sister, we share our ugly truths and our deepest fears in our own private confessionals, reserved for those of us who have seen the shadowy side of “perfect mommy.” I liken us to shipwrecked survivors, each struggling on our own private islands, waving to each other as we float by or perhaps calling out a word or two of advice that helped us once.

We send our messages-in-a-bottle out to sea, but there is no real help in sight. It’s completely up to us to either sink or swim.

Then there is the unconscious side of motherhood, or the other 90 percent of the day, when I am just reacting. I don’t have time to consider the bigger picture, to mourn my old boobs or pine for a night out dancing, or to wallow in yesterday’s mistakes. I am unshowered and covered with remnants of quinoa/blueberry mush, and I hardly notice because my child won’t sit still for more than five seconds. Desperate to walk at only 9 months, she hurls herself into the unknown and bumps her head several times a day. With each blow my confidence as a mom drops: Could I have prevented that? Should I be baby-proofing the whole world? Watching her more closely? I can’t even answer my own questions because I am too exhausted to think straight. To be honest, I am so sleep-deprived that I forget really important things, like paying bills and turning off the stove. This short blog has taken me weeks to write.

But I count myself lucky that I have some training for this. I had an early career that prepared me for thinking on my feet and sleeping in short bursts. After years of promoting human rights in areas of armed conflict, those skills alone, honed on the actual battlefield, are helping me survive the unfamiliar landscape of motherhood.

I am doing my best to tread water and stay afloat, but there are many days when I wake up wondering where I’m going to find the strength to keep kicking.

And then there are occasional moments of public shame when I run into a smiling supermom who has somehow lost all of her baby weight, looks like she got eight hours of sleep last night and thinks being a mom is just the greatest job in the world.

“Oh, hi!” she yells loudly across the parking lot. And then, in one quick burst, “Oh my gosh, it’s been forever! How are you? Wow, is this your little girl? How do you like being a mom? Don’t you just love it?”

I throw out my best fake grin (the one that never touches my eyes) and mutter something about how I think I do love it… I mean, I love her… I mean, yeah I like it… a lot… mostly. Then I change the subject, because no one wants to hear about the hard stuff.

And yet when I talk honestly with fellow moms, the truth always comes out. They too are having a difficult time; they too have lost themselves. Lonely and isolated, they too had no idea it would be this hard. In the past few weeks alone, three other moms have asked me to write about it, to reveal the truth behind the mask we so bravely put on each morning. And I am nothing if not a truth-teller, have risked my life several times over to bring information to light, and I suppose this is no different.

Let me put it into perspective:

I once spent five weeks sleeping in three- to five-hour shifts, barely eating or bathing, while monitoring the whereabouts of 70 human rights activists risking their lives on the ground at the Beijing Olympics, protesting for Tibetan independence. Now after nine months of full-time motherhood, I find myself longing for the personal freedoms I had during that Olympic Campaign.

Before motherhood I had no idea what real sacrifice looked like, which is saying something when you consider that I spent time in Chinese detention, was kidnapped in Sri Lanka and held at gunpoint by rebels in the Congo. From my unique point of view, three sleepless days of interrogation by the Chinese police was much, much easier than this.

As an activist, I got to choose when and where I offered my help and my time. When I felt spent, I would tag-out, taking my turn to rest and recuperate. My life was full of new and exciting experiences, traveling to places few people have seen, making choices and decisions on a whim, exploring, activating, accomplishing big goals. I was the destroyer of routine, determined not to fall asleep at the wheel of life.

But now I reign queen in the land of routine. Cultivating plans weeks in advance, thinking about dinner at 10:30 in the morning, rushing home for a 5:30 bath like the world depended on it. I do it because my daughter needs it, because her world does depend on it. She laughs and flaps her arms with joy when she recognizes people and places; she feels safe and sleeps better when we go through our pre-bedtime ritual. She loves doing the same thing over and over again.

The more I surrender to this merry-go-round existence, the easier the whole parenthood thing becomes — but the foggier my life becomes.

People used to ask me if I was scared to do the work I do, traveling in and out of war zones, tempting fate. And I would say, “Yeah, of course I’m scared. But I’m more afraid not to do it, to fall asleep and miss my life while doing the same thing everyday just because it’s safe.”

In her excellent book “Making Space for Children,” Virginia Hilliker writes to parents, “Good news: Each moment is new,” meaning that as parents we have the opportunity to relate to the world through our children, with fresh eyes, from moment to moment. Regardless of yesterday’s missteps, we can start fresh each day, each moment. People spend years in meditation trying to gain this very view of the world.

And this, I’m learning, is the difference.

My fear of routine, of each day resembling the next, is obliterated by the wondrous beginner’s mind that my baby exhibits. After months of taking a bath in the same tub, she suddenly discovers the drain and learns that she can pull the plug and become the master of water! This realization manifests as a wide-eyed, two-tooth smile that quickly becomes a raucous laughter that shakes her entire being. Tonight’s bath is new.

This is why I fell in love with traveling. Waking up each day in a different place, with new sounds and new tastes, makes you feel alive as the world around you suddenly appears in Technicolor. It is addicting and exciting to surround yourself with the unknown.

I would often experience culture shock upon retuning home to the U.S., falling into a depression at the complete lack of luster I felt in familiar surroundings. I longed to be tested, to grow with each new sight, to expand my understanding of the world and my place in it… to become the master of water again.

With each new achievement, my daughter is teaching me to remember the wonder that surrounds us. The fact that one surface is hard while the other one is squishy is magical, when you really think about it. The very first taste of mango is divine, and flowers can pop up anywhere, even in the middle of concrete fields. And even though from the outside today looks exactly like yesterday, nothing is the same in her eyes. In fact, everything, everyday, is brand new again.

So for now, this is how I will travel. I will get down on all fours and crawl above her, seeing the world from her perspective, finding amazement in a springy doorstop or the sound of Tupperware on tile. I will strive to approach each bath-time with the anticipation of an early explorer diving into uncharted waters.

This has become my meditation, my practice, as a new mom. I hope it will bring some relief to the other not-so-in-love-with-this moms out there, struggling to find joy amidst the mundane. This is the mantra that I chant through the sleep-deprived haze of my days, trying to remain fascinated about what tomorrow will bring:

“Each moment is new… Each moment is new… Each moment is new.”

Do you have an ugly truth to share? What strategies do you use to transform routine into awakened mind? Let’s start talking about it. Please comment below.

Truthfully,

Kiri Westby
Change-maker/Rule-Breaker/Story-teller

Funny things people say/do to a pregnant woman

Most, if not all, are acts of kindness, but really funny if you think about it in perspective.

1. Nobody calls you by your name anymore. They go “Good morning! How are you baby?”

2. Nobody looks at you in the face anymore. They baby talk to your belly.

3. Your colleagues ask you every other day why you’re still waddling in the office. In a tone akin to asking “why are you walking around the office with an unplugged grenade?”

4. Friends insist on carrying all your stuff. Including that Snickers bar, because they are afraid you’ll over exert yourself.

5. Your mum starts buying you tents for dresses.

6. All your friends start giving you pictures of their child because they believe you’ll have a cute baby if you keep looking at the cutest one on earth.

7. Children look at your tummy and ask their parents what you had for lunch.

8. People give you words of consolation when you tell them you are expecting a girl.

9. People give you words of consolation when you tell them you are expecting a boy.

10. Every mum insists on giving you their pregnancy advice, whether you asked for it or not, and irregardless if it works. They just know.

11. Your friends start to order extra portions at the restaurant despite your protest and expect you to eat enough for 6. If you don’t finish all of it you’re made to feel like you’re an evil mum starving your baby.

12. Your friends tell you the most scientific myths ever. Like wearing yellow during your pregnancy can cause baby to get jaundice.

13. People stare at you & your coffee mug like you’ve committed murder and only let you off scott free when you mouth the word “decaf”.

Mums out there, what’s your version?

Happy Christmas & Make Merry in the New Year

Do you remember what you were doing during the last few days leading to the millennium? Can you believe its been 10 years since Y2K (I just felt a white hair emerging from my balding scalp)? And if the 1990′s was the 20th century, what is 2011? The 21st century doesn’t quite cut it anymore, does it?

Ok grumbles aside, I’ll like to thank all my friends for sticking around for so long, and for all your unwaivering support amidst the tornadic weather. May all your dreams and fantasies come alive, and 2011 bringing you boundless happiness, health and prosperity.

Baby and Lucas

are the 2 dogs I have. They get the same amount of love, attention and equal spanking opportunities when they don’t obey the house rules. D-man and myself love them to bits and would never trade them for anything. Nothing in this world can buy them!!!

Unless its 100 million US dollars.

In cold hard cash.

And provided we are granted visiting rights.

Then we might consider cloning them.

Anyways my point is, this 2 dogs of mine, are very different in every aspect. Baby is the big dog trapped in a short, small, stumpy body, whose sunkissed golden fur grows 2 cm everyday and flows like silk in the wind. Lucas is a chicken trapped in a hound’s white and black spotted body, with an otter’s tail attached.

Lucas sits by my bed and guards me while I am asleep..

Conscientious and careful of every movement and unfamiliar sounds…

He sits obediently for his food, his walk and waits for us to finish watchy telly before starting to peddle his toys to us.

Lucas can do tricks like left and right hand shakes, sit still, down, and jumps over high walls and hola hoops when asked.

While Baby has very different skill sets.

She lies on my bed all day….

And gets away with murder.

You see, life is always fair. :)

Oldie but Goodie

You know, they say it never rains but storms… for a blardy good reason.

Life has been crazy these weeks, with company auditors whipping my arse and boxes waiting hungrily at home to be packed. Packing to move I can understand since it’s inevitable but which masochistic person invented this company auditing system anyway?

Back to packing. Oh gosh, where do I start. And I’m not even a hoarder in the first place.  It is a horrible, painful and back-breakingly tiring task. Except that I found some of these pretty crockery which once belonged to Grandma.
……… ok so I AM a hoarder. Happy?

But how can you throw away something as pretty as this?

or this?

or something as airy fairy as her?

I thought these were so cool too, in a kitschy but decent way.

I like old hand me downs because I like to imagine the stories behind them. Who used these before? Did granny throw parties then with these? What had she served in them? Who ate them? When? Where?

Seriously, who needs fine china and exquisite porcelein if you have these oldies that tells you stories as you eat. :)

Bossaball

It’s a combination of volleyball, football and music, played on a giant inflatable balloon and trampoline. A-gal does fancy gymnastic stuff so she totally loves it. Apparently anyone can play and you don’t need prior training. Just so long you don’t throw up on bouncy inflatables like me, and am not afraid of a flying ball coming at ya. Check it out here.

I think A-gal’s a natural at sports. She’s getting ready for..

a somersault…

then she does a cartwheel..

She can also do volleyball serves…

and she touches her toes on the trampoline..

just because she can!

Definitely a happy sports.

Chantal Ughi

Every once in a while you find an inspiring story that propels you to work harder for your dreams. This had been mine for the moment.

Not that I want to be a professional Muay Thai fighter now, but I am reminded that passions and dreams must be chased to be fulfilled. And that is perhaps where we can then ultimately find happiness.