Pride Goeth Before… [82]

By Dr. Keith Witt
April 18, 2013
I do a lot of meditations and practices each day, one of which is a mantra called “Green Tara,” where you repeat, “Om, tare, tutare, ture, svaha,” again and again. Each of these words has specific meanings, with the “tutare” referring to the eight dangerous thoughts of Buddhism–pride, anger, envy, avarice, wrong views, attachment, doubt, and delusion. It has always seemed significant to me that “pride” claims the first spot, and throughout my life, humiliating experiences followed by self-reflection, consultation, and rigorous honesty transform into humbling experiences. My last humiliating lesson occurred a few weeks ago, visiting my parents who live near Kailua Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island. Becky and I had been spending our mornings eating breakfast at this cool organic supermarket/deli and then going to a little beach where we’d swim and read. I have an iffy back, and was cautious with the waves–though I love waves. My body felt OK, and so I began to get more confident as the days progressed. I’ve been a surfer all my life, and gradually I began going for bigger sets, delighting in feeling no injury–unconsciously upping the ante with each successful session. I also secretly felt superior to the tourists joining me in the water–not realizing they were smart enough to be scared of big waves. Finally, on our last day, after an enjoyable morning at the beach, I turned to Becky in her beach chair, smiling and happy. I asked her, “Ready to go?” Becky, pleased with the calmer waters today (she doesn’t much care for surf), said, “Let’s go in one more time.” As we swam out, the surf picked up quickly, almost instantaneously, (as can happen in Hawaii) and to my delight and Becky’s horror we were in pretty big waves. If this had been our first day, I would have avoided them, fearing injury–but I was feeling strong and proud. I caught a couple and kept swimming out for more, until a really big wave showed up and I went for it. I dropped into it pretty smoothly, and decided to pull out and swim back for more, not realizing the wave’s power still pumping. As I dove down to get beneath the surging water, the wave captured my legs, and I felt two distinct snaps in my right hamstring–instant blinding pain! Time often slows down in moments like these. As the wave tumbled me towards shore, sending unbelievable shots of agony through my right leg, a series of thoughts and images flashed through my mind:
  • “Wow! This is how inexperienced swimmers drown bodysurfing–catastrophic injury distracts you from holding your breath.”
  • “This is a serious injury. I sincerely hope I don’t need surgery!”
  • “I wonder if they’ll need to carry me off the beach?”
  • “Will I be able to get on the plane tonight?”
  • “I am so embarrassed and sorry to cause this problem!”
  • “It was pride that led me to take off on that wave.”
I literally crawled on my stomach onto the beach and had to ask a huge, sunburned, sympathetic tourist to drag me to my feet and help me stagger back to our chairs. I limped onward into the next three weeks of grinding pain and gradual recovery. I can walk and swim now, and my leg, though still black and blue, is healing. Deeper principles are revealed here. Why believe a 63-year-old body can take the inevitable wipeouts of bodysurfing big waves? In my younger days I was tumbled countless times in surf breaks all up and down the California coast, but 15, 20, 30, 40 year old Keith could endure any amount of ocean pounding. Why didn’t I realize that my consciousness in the water feels the same, while my body’s become more fragile? Why did I keep pushing the surf envelop, knowing that eventually the limitation would probably be injury? Especially, why didn’t I get more cautious feeling superior to the people around me? God knows I’ve had enough experience with pride leading to disasters. I’ve concluded that pride is the first of the eight dangerous thoughts because it’s at the root of all of them–the arrogant ego asserting “The rules don’t apply to special me!” Well, once again, I’ve learned my lesson about pride. This time I’m not going to conclude I’ve finally got it. I’m sure it will show up again, and future humiliations/humbling experiences hover on the horizon. My goal this time is more modest–the next time I feel superior, arrogant, or prideful, I’m going to slow down and remind myself of the Roman General who, after returning from victories in the provinces, paraded with his legions through the streets of Rome to the cheers of multitudes. The tradition during such parades was to have a slave walk behind the general (I assume nobody with choice would do this job) to keep reminding him, “Remember you are mortal.”

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