Most people associate the idea of humility with weakness and with deference. However, the Latin root of the word means "ground" (from humus). This feels very important to me. Why? Because the various activities I invest my energy in are all helping to "ground" me.
A recent back injury has humbled me and grounded me in my dependence on my body. It is an obvious fact, but too easily taken for granted. Not only can I not box right now, I can't comfortably do many ordinary things like even tie my shoes without being mindful of how I bend and stretch. While I could feel humiliated by this, instead, I feel humbled, that is, grounded in the preciousness of being embodied, and in having a healthy body. It also gives me more empathy for others who struggle with their bodies being out of balance, injured, or in some way "against" them.
Meditation helps to humble you, not by making you feel bad about yourself, but by grounding you in the way your mind really works. We do need help with our minds, and, we need to have ways to tame our minds and train our minds.
Psychoanalysis helps to humble you, by revealing that you are not an expert in anything. What am I good at? Learning how to listen? Learning how to share experience? Learning how to talk with another in an attentive way? Being a psychotherapist is an impossible profession because there is always more to witness, to open up to, to recognize about the myriad patterns of human suffering and human survival, and human beauty.
Then there are the mystics, those people who truly open up to the gigantic unknown of our world and our universe. Touching something of the wonder of creation makes one humble in a speechless way.
I feel a tension between the desire to be a scholar, and the desire to be a mystic. I am grounded in the fact that I am neither. I try to be mindful each day and witness how much I get lost in ever flowing river of fantasy that carries me away from being grounded in the basic facts of my life and of this life. Why? Because it is hard to stay grounded, hard to be humbled, hard to open up to the vastness of the mystery of real life, uncolored by the consolation of fantasy. In fantasy you are king, or, if not king, at least the author of your favorite kind of story. To be humbled, however, is to open up to the basic teachings of all wisdom traditions: suffering, aging, sickness, death, dependence.
Buddha said that there are several different forms of pain. There is the basic kind of pain of physical or mental distress. Then, there is the pain of constant change, that everything passes away. There is the pain of frustration, of feeling thwarted. And there is the pain of the unknown, like, for example, you know you will die, but you do not know when. There is also the pain of the beauty of life. It is beauty, perhaps more than anything else, that humbles me, throws me into crisis. It puts me in touch with a deep feeling of shame, that somehow I do not deserve to be part of such beauty. There are all sorts of ideas about why this should be so. Part of being grounded, or humbled, is to be willing to investigate this kind of pain too. Toward what end? I guess I hope that I will find a language that I can share with others that will help me to help them. Humility seems to me to be an open gate that one must pass through in order to follow a path toward wisdom. It is a path that involves a lot of mourning, a willingness to let go of who you think you were or are. Humility involves giving up the story you tell about yourself and the stories others tell about you. Humility involves a willingness to stand in the space of an open question and let the world begin to speak to you, even if you doubt you have the ears to welcome it or the heart to understand it.
This is another way of trying to work through what Bion means by the notation O.