Why St. Benedict Was Right

1 Brothers, Divine Scripture calls to us saying: Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted (Luke 14:11; 18:14). 2 In saying this, therefore, it shows us that every exaltation is a kind of pride, 3 which the Prophet indicates he has shunned, saying: Lord, my heart is not exalted; my eyes are not lifted up and I have not walked in the ways of the great nor gone after marvels beyond me (Ps 130[131]:1). 4 And why? If I had not a humble spirit, but were exalted instead, then you would treat me like a weaned child on its mother’s lap (Ps 130[131]:2).

St. Benedict’s Rule

What’s come up for you is dis-ease bound up with certain longstanding behaviors and, in turn, the disconnect you feel from other sentient beings, including the ones you love. 

The term pride still seems to me to nail it. “I know best and I brook no other authority but my knowledge.” Or: “I will best and I need no other will to make this happen.” Or even: “I doubt best and I trust my faculty of doubting.” Pride is how the sense of self insulates itself not only from others but also from the Other.

Contrariwise, humility begins with the realization that, actually, I can’t rely on my self–my knowledge, my own power, or my skepticism; I’m simply not up for it; I, as the sense of self, am not enough. Humility alludes to, even if it doesn’t point directly to, the metaphysical core of lack. “I’m not.” “I lack.” “I cannot.”

To be clear, this “I’m not” or “I can’t” does not issue from the sense of self wrapping itself up more in itself. On the contrary, “I’m not,” “I lack,” or “I can’t” bespeaks the deconstruction of the sense of self, bespeaks going beyond, while seeing deeply through, the games the ego keeps playing with itself.

The result of rarified humility is opening the door to the Other, to another superhuman Power. Being able to surrender oneself to the teacher is a sign that one can, as it were or without as it were, surrender oneself to God. It’s in this way that the self-enclosure comes to an abrupt end.

Further Reading

Gregory Bateson, “The Cybernetics of ‘Self’: A Theory of Alcoholism”