Bushwhacked by Humility

It’s the little things that make life such a big deal. -Pat MacDonald

BY John Price-Kabhir, The Buddhist Advisor

Something highly unexpected happened to me recently: In the midst of trying to “assert myself,” I found my attitude in a shambles, my peace of mind smoldering, and my sense of purpose floating away with the ashes in the wind.

While living alone in a small apartment several years ago, I often prayed for a wider circle of people in my daily life. I longed to see a wider variety of faces, to look out on a yard, to live in a neighborhood where I could walk about. I looked around a few weeks ago and found my wishes granted. I had moved two years ago into a small one-family house, and my former family seemed to be restored. In a way, I felt I’d kept the nest in order and the birds who’d flown had returned, one at a time.

Then I also began to feel encroachment upon in my territory. People were giving me advice on everything from finances to food, to how the furniture was arranged. I was used to autonomy, but with other strong-willed and strong-minded people around, they were bound to put in their opinions. I began to brood over this in silence, only letting off a little steam when the pressure inside required it.

Of course there’s the saying, “Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.” I hadn’t thought about the complexities of having other people around daily. If I open a package in the wrong way, I hear about it. If I fold something poorly, as I often do, it’s brought to my attention. I could list many things, all of them relatively small things in the daily living spectrum. But the way I am, in a Buddhist sense of not complaining, sublimating it to a corner of my mind hidden, but also unhealthy. At least in keeping with the notion of “getting things off one’s chest,” I’m not doing it, and small, bad things grow like vermin in the recesses of the human mind. Please realize that hiding feelings is not good Buddhist practice.

Again, the lesson. It’s all about ego. How many times to I need to take missteps into the world of delusion? I once again fell into a pattern of allowing things that could be worked out, into areas where their festering allowed them to reproduce and grow. I’m allowing monsters of ego mania to take over my peace of mind.

Not all the autonomy issues I’ve had were minor. Who am I, the Buddhist Adviser, to be thought of as useless, clueless, even on the edge of vindictive? I never intend such judgments. But if they happen, if someone feels I’ve consciously performed a misdeed,  people are rarely completely wrong when leveling such accusations. In short, I found myself wallowing in self-pity and acrimony. There, I’ve admitted it. Now what?

Feeling the assaults I’ve interpreted, what is the best way of living? Right Action, from and ancient Vedas down through all religions. Quiet acquiescence trumps sublimating then attacking. Neither approach will solve the problems, but laying the foundation for working out problems will. Hostility and bad feelings for all does not solve problems.

I began to realize I allowed myself to be cornered and poked and prodded into petty anger. What I’d wished for in human contact and a better dwelling had turned on me. I allowed this to happen, and it didn’t seem to work for me. Here it seemed I’d worked so hard in solitude these past ten years, lonely solitude. But although I’d grown in many ways, I was still allowing small things to get the best of me.

So, going deeper for solutions to the home life is in order. And these lessons transcend any petty conflicts on the home front. I must learn to not allow any spur of the moment, snap, poorly considered, responses when more measured, calm, considerations will do with much more gold. I do not want to be a cornered little scrappy dog. I’d much rather be the wise and considerate man on the cushion. So feeling the pangs of my own self-inflicted arrows, I set out to search for Right Action. It was right there in front of me, coming to focus from the fog of self-indulgence.

Maybe it’s an order of the Universe, from gigantic to microscopic, that we seem to internalize and self-judge about anything from the huge and life-threatening, to the tiny and unremarkable. I realized that my tiny and picky concerns over life-issues simultaneously were self-destructive and harming to all. Why could I not simply let the small things fade into changes in behavior (“don’t cut the package on the end; use the lifting tab“)? The biggest troubles were in the entanglements of doing the small things right or simply adapting, or facing the larger matters in honest conversation.

Arguing over the trivial is self-defeating. Finding the perfect balance between the small stings picking at the ego, and the really important aspects of living with people after so many years, is daunting. But I’ve come to understand, for the uncountable time, I am only demeaning and reducing my happiness if I allow the little things to pester me to a point where I am unhappy.

Have I learned? Well, as of the hour I’m writing this, one new roommate is dozing to my left in what used to be my office, but is now a small bedroom. But I still have enough space to work. The snoring is actually comforting. And the other full time housemate is off to the thrift store with his adopted family, right now his mother and 13 year-old step daughter.

Things happen. If I allow my nest to be occupied by more humans, and usually two cats, I invite greater human variables. Although I’ve passed the midlife marker, I still have a lot to learn about living with my fellow humans, no matter how much I love them.

I know that changing my ways of being for the calm and good help foster calm and well-being among those in my midst. Attacking and allowing myself to be backed into a corner does not help in any way. Maybe small assertions of my preferences might lead to some basic tune-ups in character, but they do not take root in the better ways of being.

To conclude this outpouring of emotion, just let it be said that humility came out from around the corner and spooked me. I sincerely hope I’ve learned to let humility rule my ego-self. I don’t need nor want the disruption pride kindles.

John Price-Kabhir, is a retired public school educator and a writer. He is ordained a householder in the Rinzai Zen Buddhist order. He can be reached at

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