“A great man is always willing to be little.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
One of my students told me something not long ago that has since stuck with me.
An indigenous elder they spent time with was asked what their one wish would be for the people of the Western world. He answered simply, it would be for them to become smaller. He went on to explain what he meant by smaller, since he wasn’t referring to physical size.
It’s an understatement to say this prayer struck me deeply. I have felt its echo through me since. At the time this was shared with me I’d been reaching back into my Quaker roots and into the practice or attitude of selflessness and humility. In Quaker philosophy and silence, I had been meditating on the presence of smallness.
In our culture, we are taught to be big and do big. To have a big life, make big money, reach big audiences, have big love, own big things, have big dreams, big businesses, and big beauty. That is measured against other people’s bigness, otherwise your big doesn’t know how big it truly is. Those of our culture are so often assessing how big they are, or their life in any given moment… hungry souls eating feasts of emptiness. Metaphorically we are always on the search for the largest ‘meal’ we can find or offer, even if for a short time to have the illusion of being full, until we then desire something bigger. The ego grasps onto this concept of big and learns quickly that there is always someone or something ‘bigger’ to try to be, to have, or create… no matter what.
The spirit of big it seems, always wants to be bigger. And as most of us have observed, it tends to consume things and other beings/people in order to get bigger. Often what is consumed are many things we see as ‘small’.
In the weeks that followed the prayer I’d received about becoming smaller, it began to seep in more and more – the spirit of small. It seemed to be the answer my soul had been seeking for many years now, always feeling that this race was not something I wanted to be a part of. The prayer to be small, for the sake of my happiness, peace, and for the happiness and peace of all beings, rose up from a place that had been residing within me for as long as I can remember. The desire to remain hidden or in the background is unusual for someone who teaches – but there it had been nevertheless all my life, and still where I find the most peace. Slowly the understanding that trying to be big does not help anyone, had rooted deeply within my heart.
Spiritual and healing pursuits are often not handled much differently. We want big breakthroughs, big healing, big experiences, big connection to spirit or earth, big wisdom, big peace – measuring how big we are by different criteria… what we feel is the highest wisdom, most healthy, most connected, or most enlightened. We forget the simplicity and beauty of the small.