It began with a phone call: “Collapsed…taken to hospital…two brain tumours…unknown prognosis.”  

As the initial shock of hearing about my friend began to subside I noticed myself go into a familiar, automatic coping mode. Practical suggestions, plans and comforting words spewed forth. But by the end of the call, I had been overwhelmed by gut-wrenching sorrow and I could barely get my breath for the tears.

Gradually my equilibrium returned and as I prepared to visit my friend in hospital, my mind turned to how I genuinely might help, particularly how my understanding of the Three Principles might be useful in this situation. But my understanding seemed to have deserted me. I was definitely upset because my friend might be dying not just because of my thinking! In that moment I had only an intellectual rather than an insightful understanding that my pain was being generated from the inside-out and the Principles didn’t seem enough to help me, let alone anyone else. I was truly lost in thoughts of grief, sorrow, worry. It felt hopeless to even think I might be able to share something helpful with him. I felt inadequate in the extreme.

It was a hot, sunny day and the tube train was stuffy and crowded as I headed into central London.  Yet I suddenly noticed that in the midst of the hustle and bustle and physical discomfort, my mind had become very quiet and clear. As I left the underground station, I was quiet enough to catch sight of a beautiful tree in full leaf, emerging from the sharp contrast of the parched soil surrounded by concrete slabs and high-rise buildings. As I smiled with gratitude for its beauty and perfect form, I touched that place of well-being that is the essence of our human existence and I remembered that I was OK.  In that moment I also knew my friend was OK and I didn’t need to fix or help him in any way. 

Yet between the pavement and the 8th floor of the hospital I was struck with another thought storm. “What if I can’t see the health in him when he’s lying there with two brain tumours?” A surge of anxiety hit me before remembering I didn’t need to believe that thought and the anxiety passed. So I arrived – ready and able, grounded in my understanding of the Principles…..

And then life took over and dropped me into a place of profound humility.

A few other friends and neighbours were there at first and pleasant small talk ensued. Eventually I was alone with my friend and I fell into a more familiar and connected space. What was startlingly obvious was that he really was OK and he knew that to the very core of his being. I didn’t need any knowledge of the Principles at all to realise that and what was more, neither did he. 

“I’m living from moment to moment” he said. “Right here and now everything is taken care of. I’ve let go of work, others can take care of that. I am in this place with a great view, nurses are taking care of me and the doctors are doing whatever they do. And whatever happens, I know I’m OK.” 

We spoke about gratitude, consciousness and love and the present moment being the place of miracles and Oneness. In the Stillness I was stripped bare of every need to do anything at all. We each fell into a place of complete peace; a place with no separation between us. 

Reflecting on the experience, it was deeply humbling for me to catch sight of the fact that I had not arrived at his bedside with true humility.  At some level I had still been thinking that my understanding of the Principles might be able to help him; that perhaps I knew something he didn’t. What I witnessed was the universal nature of the deeper intelligence, the wisdom accessible to us all.  I was shown something deeper about the nature of humility.

True humility requires a deep surrender to the impersonal nature of life, showing up naked of any self-created label, role or mask. It means showing up with nothing and responding to what life brings whether our ego likes it or not. 

I connected with that just in time that day to hear fully the beautiful teaching of my friend, to sit with the profound wisdom that is available to us all. 

I got lost again at times over the following months as the illness progressed and failed to yield to treatment but unfailingly my wellbeing re-emerged as I witnessed the light of consciousness shine ever more brightly through my friend before finally ebbing away. 

His last words to me are etched on my heart: “It’s not as if I’m really dying, my friend”. 

It has helped me as a practitioner to see that humility means understanding that I know nothing and that real grounding is understanding that I don’t need to. 

With love and gratitude to Billy McColl who died on New Year’s Day 2014.