Opening Your Heart: Humility and Service as a Way of Life

Generally speaking, humility is a virtue. It usually indicates some degree of ego reduction. Of course, the nefarious ego can even flaunt humility to its own ends. This is humorously depicted by a tale of dueling holy men, each trying to be more humble than the other.

The first one knelt and said to the other, "I am not worthy to touch your feet."

The second replied, "I would be honored to touch the dirt you just walked upon."

The dialogue escalated: "I am not even equal to the lint in your navel."

"I am but a worm in your excrement."

Each man exalted at making himself appear more humble than the other.

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Foolish pride and ego glorification are pretty much universally recognized as the opposite of spirituality.

An effective way to cultivate your spirituality and lessen your ego is to put yourself into the service of another. But guard against self-aggrandizement. Pay attention and make sure that when you say your intention is to serve another, you are not really intending to build up your own ego.

It's Time to Step Forward

This is a time in history when good people must step forward and be willing to take responsibility for ensuring our children's future. To paraphrase Edmund Burke: All evil needs in order to flourish is for good people to do nothing. By serving your brothers and sisters, you are serving the whole planet. If people were more concerned with what they were contributing, rather than with what they were getting, we would have heaven on Earth here and now.

Over 80 percent of the world's resources are consumed by 20 percent of the people. There is no shortage of food; that is not the reason for hunger. The reason for hunger is that resources aren't shared proportionately. If there is a shortage of anything at all on the planet, it is a shortage of consciousness and compassion.

In truth, when we selflessly serve another, we in fact are serving ourselves, enhancing our own spiritual and emotional maturity. Whenever we do anything at all that reduces the control our ego has over controlling our realities, we get another glimpse of God. There are so many creative ways to experience this. You could read to a blind neighbor, take an elderly friend grocery shopping, play card games with nursing home residents, pick litter off the shoulder of the road. If you can't think of a way to serve, just pray: Use me, God. Inevitably, those kinds of prayers get answered. Extreme spirituality expresses itself through true selfless service.


When Jesus washed his disciples' feet, he was helping them realize that there is no difference between the teacher and the student, no difference between the master and the servant, no difference between the rich and the poor, no difference between the giver and the receiver. Extreme spirituality recognizes God in everyone, including ourselves. From a different tradition comes Neem Karoli Baba, the Indian saint, who said, "Love everyone, serve everyone, and remember God."

In my seminars, I encourage service with a simple foot-washing ceremony. The room is arranged into groups of circles of ten chairs each. One person sits in a chair and another kneels in front of him or her. On the floor in the middle of each circle is a basin of warm water filled with washcloths. Those in the chairs are asked to remove their shoes and socks and place their feet on a folded towel that had been earlier placed before each chair.

Classical music plays while the person on the floor says to the person in the chair, "Please serve me by allowing me to serve you." They then take a washcloth from the basin of warm water, and wash and then kiss both feet. Afterward, both the giver and the receiver spend a moment looking silently into each other's eyes.

The people on the floor continually move to the right until they have washed and kissed the feet of all those seated in the circle. When the circuit has been completed, the people in the chairs change places with those who had been kneeling on the floor, new basins of warm water are brought in, and the exercise is done once again, so that everyone in the seminar has both an experience of giving and one of receiving.

Though it is both beautiful to watch and pleasant to partake in, this simple ceremony is as extreme as smelling a can filled with dog feces, for it is in both these kinds of controlled situations that you have the best opportunities to witness your own ego at work.

Whether we are serving or being served, ego has a response. People seated in the chairs are usually more uncomfortable with this. Even though ego has convinced us that it is generally better to receive than to give, most people discover that their true nature is to feel more comfortable with giving.


Before I realized that service is a mandatory part of extreme spirituality, I lived as an island. I did not recycle, I littered, I overconsumed and rarely considered anyone else's needs but my own. After I became more conscious of my role in the universe, I realized that if my liver had cancer, my eye couldn't say, "Not my problem." So it is with social issues. I understood there was a greater reality than the one my RAS had led me to believe was the only reality. I began taking an active part in community service.

If you are a parent, or have a close relationship with someone who is a parent, you know how joyful serving others can be. Parenting is an ideal classroom in which to learn how to put someone else's needs ahead of your own. Though most people would prefer to sleep through the night, new parents will get up many times to feed, nurture, and clean their babies. Even if it seems routine and without much joy, behind it there is a deep satisfaction that is extremely rewarding.


Recall different occasions when you put someone else's needs ahead of your own. On some of those occasions, you probably felt good about it. On other occasions, you may have indeed put someone else's needs before your own, but you didn't feel totally good about it.

Ask yourself why you don't feel good about some recollections and why you feel fine with others.

You will soon understand it is love that makes the difference. When your heart is open, you feel good about serving others.

Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Beyond Words Publishing. ©2001.

Article Source

Extreme Spirituality: Secret Key to Empowerment
by Tolly Burkan.

1571781625Extreme Spirituality is any experience whether it be firewalking or practicing humble service to others. It shows us how our egos mask, limit, distort, or diminish our knowledge of a greater reality. Over twenty extreme spiritual practices are highlighted, and readers will learn how even unpleasant or dangerous situations can help us experience how love, wisdom, compassion, and interconnection reveal aspects of our divine nature and leave us with a crystal-clear distinction between our egos and our "higher-selves."

This book, using many different extreme spiritual practices as examples, uses a logical and enthusiastic approach to teach people how to assume a totally spiritual perspective in any situation. By doing this, even sorrowful or frustrating situations don't have to cause as much suffering. We can choose our reactions to them and use them as insights for spiritual growth.

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About the Author

photo of: Tolly BurkanTolly Burkan is known as the founding father of the international firewalking movement. During the 1970s, Tolly gained his reputation by creating innovative, cutting-edge methods for developing human potential. In addition to authoring nine books that are available in many languages, Tolly has been featured in over 30 books, hundreds of magazines and newspapers, and on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

Tolly retired in 2017, although he is still available for interviews. Visit his website at