My mother was an engineer, and still is at heart, even in retirement. Growing up in her presence everything could be questioned or taken apart: physically or theoretically. I thus learned that the Way of Things followed logical reason, whether or not we understood that reason at a given time. We were scientists, artists, tailors, chefs and gardeners, mechanics and explorers, borne on the wings of patience and liberty. Life was a joint adventure: the victory craftily skewed to me; the mess and mistakes discreetly absorbed by her.
One of our forays was the growing of sunflowers and ornamental gourds. I did not care for mud, so my mother did most of the squatting and furrowing. Having been stung by a wasp between ice-creamy fingers at an earlier age, I could not tolerate dirty hands. My self-appointed roles were instead Sower of the Seeds, and Wielder of the Watering Can, as both carried acceptable levels of pomp and cleanliness.
Gardening was one of many good bargains for me, but when it came to gourds I was not sure even my small efforts were well invested. Sunflowers I could understand – they are lofty and radiant, and can be used as food when they have finished blooming – but gourds? They can be hollowed into scoops or instruments. Ours would simply be varnished for show.
Varnished for show. Where was the logic? Even the name sounded disappointing. Gourd: nobbled, puckered, unwieldy, inedible, notable only for its unabashed ugliness. Gazing at the photograph on the seed packet for long enough, I came to a secret conclusion though: life itself was their reason, and perhaps life was reason enough. Being garish and warty was their role in the world, and they did it very well.
I learned more than I bargained for that day – undoubtedly more than my mother set out to teach me too.
* * *
The gourd is often referred to as the “humble gourd”. Humble in this case is more a kind word for unattractive, or unsophisticated at best. I was pondering the subject of humility this morning, and I realised there are so many different interpretations, ranging from modesty or servility to shyness or a simple lack of confidence. Humility thus could easily be misconstrued as a weakness: modesty can sometimes be false or insincere, a subtle ploy for attention rather than honest self-acceptance; servility may be more a desire to be liked, or a fear of punishment, than a longing to be of selfless use.
Then I came across a passage by Sri Chinmoy, where he makes a clear distinction between humility and unworthiness, reasserting humility as a positive force, an unshakable divine strength.
There is a great difference between humility and unworthiness. Let us deal first with unworthiness. When we are about to do something, certain incapacities that we are born with may make us feel unworthy. Again, unworthiness may come as a result of something undivine that we have done. But whatever the reason, he who feels unworthy of something will automatically remain far away from the world of delight.
This is a negative way of approaching the truth. But if we take the positive approach, then we feel always that we have come from God. We have to be conscious of God within us, not through the feeling of unworthiness, but through humility. If I am unworthy of my Source, then why did the Source create me? Parents bring a child into the world. Now, who is responsible for the child’s life? The parents! If the child feels that he is unworthy of his parents, it is a mistake on his part. According to their inner capacity, illumination and meditation, the parents have brought their children into the world, so the children must not feel unworthy. Only the children should be humble, because in humility there is soul’s light.
– Sri Chinmoy [source]
In this time of spring and seed-sowing, especially as today is apparently Mother’s Day (at least everywhere in the world except Britain), it seems a good opportunity to remember one’s roots. Also to remember that worthiness or unworthiness are equally irrelevant: I just am and you just are. Life is reason enough.