The taxi driver who knows the fastest route between any two points in a city and takes it, is likely to be unappreciated by the people who ride with her. She is likely to deliver a product that is never recognized for its quality and value. She is likely to never be declared, The Best In The Business, or get her picture in the Commerce Section of the daily paper among the “Rising Stars,” though she might very well deliver some of those rising stars to their offices and condos. She crafts a Good in each moment, with each ride, that is not perceived to be any better than any other ride in any other cab. All cabs are the same in the minds of her passengers. What is three minutes, or ten dollars to them? The driver could make more money taking a longer route. Who is going to know? Why not?
What keeps us going in the absence of evaluation and applause? How do we give ourselves to the Good—and go on giving ourselves to the Good, day in and day out, around the clock, in all weather conditions—when no one is looking, ever? Who would study if it weren’t for tests and grades? What’s so good about a Good that no one notices, or, noticing, fails to acknowledge as Good? How do we live toward the good in each moment—how do we bring our best to bear on each moment—when no one sees or cares? How well do we live when it doesn’t matter how we live (or, if we live at all)? That’s the question at the heart of the spiritual life. How well will we live without heaven on the line, and hell in the wings? Why try, with nothing to gain and nothing to lose?
Our answers to these questions are the separators in Victor Frankl’s prison camp experience. The way these questions were answered there determined who found meaning within the hopeless drudgery of prison camp life, and who did not. Some people lived there with vitality and purpose, while others turned their faces to the wall, surrendered their spirit, and died—spiritually, if not physically.
Our life is a gift to the world. If the world doesn’t appreciate or recognize the gift, what are we to do? If the world doesn’t want, need, or value what we have to offer, what are we to do? What is the standard by which we gauge the quality of our living? What determines how we feel about our lives? Can we continue bringing our best to bear on the moments of our living when no one in those moments notices, or cares? If not, why not?
All of the epic hero stories are about us, the Gift, and our life. Who has time to serve the Gift with all these responsibilities and duties, these hopes and dreams, to tend and care for? Let us take care of living, then the Gift! We put service to the Gift on hold until our ducks are in a row, money is in the bank, the kids are out of college, the world is receptive, we are in the mood for a little adventure. The truth is that we have no intention of serving the Gift. We have bigger fish to fry. There will always be our wishes, wants, desires, ambitions, interests, inclinations, fears, dreads, etc. to serve.
I talk about serving the Gift with no profit in mind, and someone else talks about the Law of Attraction with nothing but profit in mind. Who has the audience? Profit at any price is the rule of life. If a profit can be made, a profit will be made. The Gift has to be profitable. What good is a Gift that provides no measurable advantage to the giver?
The trouble is, however, the Gift is not profitable! Any attempt to exploit the Gift results in something on the order of The Midas Touch coming to live with the bearer of the Gift. On the other hand, we cannot buy with all our profits what the Gift will give us: True Human Being-hood. Meaning. Life, spilling over pouring out, blessing all around.
The hero goes off on his, on her, journey, experiences all the trials of hero-hood, returns with the boon, the Gift, and nobody wants it. This is the real trial, serving the Gift when no one is interested in what you have to offer. They yawn. Tell you to come back tomorrow. Maybe next week. No. Make that next year. Don’t take it seriously—it’s just another trial. Another test. We are here to serve the Gift, to bring it forth, to trust ourselves to it no matter what.
The boon must always be retrieved from the lair of dragons. To give the gift, we must face the dragons whose names are So What? Who Cares? Why Try? What difference will it make? What’s the use? All of the trials the hero faces test the hero’s faith in the Gift, and strengthen her, strengthen his resolve to serve the Gift, no matter what.
Five synonymous terms for “Gift” are: “Genius,” “Work,” “Art,” “Life (in the deepest sense of the word),” and “Destiny.” Our Gift is our Genius is our Work, is our Art, is our Life, is our Destiny. The world around us has no conception of Gift, Genius, Work, Art, Life, or Destiny. Wealth, Prosperity, Profit, Privilege and Money are the things it understands. We aren’t going to change that. The question is, are we going to serve the Gift when no one is interested, cares, or understands?
We are not here to convert the world, to wake the world up. We are here to be awake, aware, alive, and to do our work. The rest is distraction. Making disciples of all nations is clearly not what Jesus was about. The disciples always subvert the work of the master. True disciples become the master, in serving no master, in living out of their own authority. They don’t say, “The Master said…” but say what they have to say.
We say what we have to say, do what we have to do, and let it stand or fall. We aren’t here to establish our work, but to do it, and let it go—like a Navaho sand painting. If it doesn’t last, it doesn’t mean that it is without value. The doing is meaningful and valuable—to us! We do what is meaningful, what has value, to us, what is life for us, and let the outcome be the outcome.
The Gift we bring forth is our Self. The boon we offer to the world is who we are. “The influence of a vital person vitalizes,” said Joseph Campbell. The Gift we give to the people of the world is not something they can put on a shelf and bow to daily. It is the realization of their own Gift to bring forth—if they have what it takes to serve the Gift at the expense of their own hopes, dreams, ambitions, desires and ideas of what life is all about.
All we can be is be awake, aware, alive. There is nothing beyond that to know, or do, or have, or be. Being awake wakes others up, if they can be awakened. That’s it. To think we have to be recognized, worshiped, adored fails the test. It’s another trial. We only have to be awake, aware, alive, here and now.
The work is realization, awareness, waking up, and it comes about through a specific, particular, focus, expression, endeavor, activity—something we do. Our work may be a service to humankind, but we are not here to serve humankind. We are here to wake up, to be aware and alive. We are here to wake ourselves up through something we do. The something we do is our work but the real work is waking up.
Our work is to claim the Gift, open it, share it with the people of the world, and not be upset or surprised when they don’t receive it. Our place is to live the Gift in the world, to share the Gift with the world, to bless the world with the Gift. If they don’t choose to be blessed, so be it. Our place is not to be recognized, rewarded, accorded places of honor, and held in high esteem. We live lives that are true to the Gift, and let that be that.
Truth does not exist in the abstract, but in the minute particulars of our lives. It is the truth of how things are and also are. The truth of how things need to be. The truth of what is important. The truth of what can be done. The truth of what needs to be done. The truth of who we are being asked to be by the nature and circumstances of our lives, by the here and now of existence, to make things more like they ought to be, need to be, than they are.
We will always have what we need to do what needs to be done—and, we will not always want to do it. We grow up against our will. We have to protect the Gift, guard the Gift, defend the Gift, serve the Gift, do right by the Gift at all costs, in all times and places. We cannot take the Gift for granted, ignore it, treat it poorly. We honor the Gift by serving the Gift—by being who we are—in each moment of life.
The spiritual task is to live in the world as a source of blessing and grace no matter what. The spiritual task is to live in the world even as a source of unacknowledged and unappreciated blessing and grace. Can we enjoy our lives when our gift to life is not acknowledged, or acknowledged and not appreciated? If not, why not?
What, exactly, do we expect? In our eyes, the cab driver is just a cab driver. She is as invisible as it gets. Her cab is one of fifty at the curb at the airport. Any one of the fifty will get us to our hotel. That’s really all we care about. What are three minutes and ten dollars to us? What keeps the cab driver from disappearing into her invisibility and becoming, in her own eyes, just another cab driver?
In whose eyes do we live? How do we measure the true worth of our lives? Visibility? Is that it? We are valuable to the extent that we manage to make ourselves visible—in the eyes of whom? How do we become visible, worthy? Through achievement? Acquisition? Accomplishment? Celebrity status? Notoriety? Fame? Fortune?
An invisible taxi driver who consistently delivers quality and value to his customers doesn’t count for much, does he? He has to distinguish himself, in more dramatic ways, say by delivering the baby of one of his, passengers, and twins would be better, and triplets would be better yet, and then spring-boarding the fleeting fame of that event with witty one-liners to a late night talk show appearance, and on to a successful show business career. Now, we’re talking. That’s more like it. Only in America. Horatio Alger strikes again. The American Dream comes true. You have to be seen in order to be a success in our eyes, and you have to be a success in order to be seen.
We cannot be invisible, and be successful. Success is about status, and recognition, fortune and fame. Success is something someone else says about us. The best taxi driver in the entire world is still a taxi driver. And even if she is an excellent mother, and wonderful human being, she is still “just a taxi driver.” And, with no more aspiration than that, she will never make the big time, or rank high in our eyes.
What is it about these eyes? Where do they get their ideas about what to look for, what to admire, what to desire, honor, respect, esteem? Where do these eyes learn how to see? How do these eyes come up with their notions about what to appreciate, and what to ignore? What are these eyes thinking?
These are the eyes of the culture, not of the heart. These eyes see what the culture sees, how the culture sees, what the culture values, discounts, dismisses, discards, ignores. The spiritual task is to get our eyes back. The spiritual journey is learning to see with the eyes of the heart.
The culture has entranced our eyes. But it isn’t just this culture. That’s the task of every culture. It’s the task of every culture to own the eyes of the members of the culture—to have everyone see what they are supposed to see the way they are supposed to see; and to have them not even look at the things they are not supposed to see. The culture’s task is to pass out culture-colored glasses and blinders, and the task of spiritual enlightenment, acumen, insight, understanding and realization is to take off the glasses, and the blinders, and see into the heart of things by seeing with the eyes of the heart. Spirituality is counter-cultural to the core.
“Right hearing, right seeing, right thinking, right understanding, right knowing, right doing, right being”—this is the mantra of the spiritual life and journey. All of the spiritual masters have it down. All of the spiritual masters live at odds with their culture in all the places it is possible to be at odds. Spirituality, at its root, is a value system at odds with the value system of the prevailing, and pervading, culture. Spirituality is about assessing value, perceiving worth, ascribing importance, defining success, declaring what is good and what is only pretending to be good. At the heart of spiritual development is the matter of doing the ordinary things—the invisible things—well.
Two examples that pop immediately to mind are the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the Buddhist tradition of sand raking. Perhaps there is something that the western world would take less seriously than pouring tea and raking sand, but these things would rank right up there at the top of the list of things at the bottom of things to be taken seriously. To them, we might add taxi driving.
Jesus had his own way of emphasizing the significance of invisible acts. There is the line about fasting in ways that no one knows you are fasting, or praying, not on street corners or in restaurants, but in secret places so that no one knows you are praying. And there is the bit about the widow’s mite. And the story of the sheep and the goats. And the metaphor of salt in the earth, and yeast in the dough, and light in the darkness. And, there is the invisibility of his own life, from his obscure birth, to his itinerant ministry, to his death as a common criminal. He did not turn stones into bread, or leap from the Temple, or attempt to command the kingdoms of the world. He saw with the eyes of the heart into the heart of things, and was content to be invisible in remarkable ways.
It is in taking care of the smallest details that we influence the shape of things to come. It is doing mediocrity really well that we transform all of life. It is by doing right by ourselves, and one another, and all others in the simplest, kindest, most compassionate ways that we open doors to enlightenment and perception. It is by living toward the best we can imagine in each moment of our living that we serve the Gift, bring life to life, and become who we are to be in the time left for living.