The Daily Grind

Neil Allison

There is a way of looking at life from the inside. When you go within and see the larger picture, you come under the wing of your inner Genius, and then you can know what is really going on behind the floodlights and the noise of visible life. Every man knows in his heart that life is meant for more than mere pleasure or misery; he knows that it is for learning and growing. But the inside view shows us more: it shows us man as a being of great dignity, old as the ages in his essence, working his way up through the human stage towards the status of godhood. Such a vision must have been what the poet Keats had, when he called the world a "vale of soul-making" where each man is learning to find himself as a spiritual individuality, and in which the divine labor of building character goes on under the eye of the gods.

It is a habit of moralists in these days to say that modern life with its break-neck pace and its multitude of distractions is weaning us away from spiritual things. We need the discipline of sterner times, they say. But nature and life have a way of exacting that discipline in the simple events of every day. For example, just to maintain an honorable place in the world and earn a suitable living keeps us on our toes and calls into play the qualities needed to build strong men. This is more than ever true in our modern age, with its insistence on personal presentable-ness, general "know-how," and a high-spirited readiness to put the best foot forward.

Perhaps not one among thousands who report for work on time every morning and maintain an alert and acceptable behavior throughout the day, would do anything but smile, or laugh outright, at the idea that there could be anything spiritually significant about following the "daily grind." And you yourself would say, "Why, that's nothing more than the usual routine of holding down a job." But expressed in terms of qualities it means a high degree of punctuality, poise, decision of character, self-control, and sagacity in dealing with others, in the course of the business day. Can you say it is nothing to throw yourself into your work, putting moods and self-indulgences to one side, giving the best you have — and this perhaps over a period of years, day in, day out?

These are the things we take for granted. Consequently they are not generally the subject of reflection, and their significance therefore is rarely comprehended. But I take off my hat to the girl behind the counter, to the station-attendant who cleans my windshield and checks my tires. They are of the multitudes who are building better than they know.

In the execution of the thousand skills needed in prosaic industry, you find again a high degree of concentration, self-direction, imagination and judgment closely allied with the more homespun qualities. To an even greater extent do you find these among the scientists, the atomic and other researchers, the inventors, and the experimenters along the frontiers of human knowledge. We know that, at least at rare moments of insight, many of these last-named arrive at heights transcending the reasoning faculty. Great art exemplifies the splendid courage that dares to meet the pain of creative effort and to come through with something of the spirit. And all about us are the warm, endearing qualities brought into play in human relationships, in the teeming and multitudinous life that pulsates around us every day: forbearance, sympathy, understanding, humor. . . . All these are qualities more properly human than those belonging to our purely material nature. Looked at from the inside, they are seen to be the beginnings of attributes that will flower in greater fulness among the races of the gods — our future selves.

It was said over the radio, in the program called "The People's Platform," that this is a cynical age and that people are cynics because they are not sure of themselves. What is there to be sure of, unless we understand something more of our true nature as mankind? Why should we not look within and discover ourselves? What humanity needs even more than a good five-cent cigar is a disposition to take seriously the concept of its innate divinity and exalted destiny. If, as the ancient Hindu and Jewish systems teach, the life that is now in human form has in the course of its spiritual evolution experienced something of the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms, why should it not go higher? Spiritual growth is nothing less than the slow, or less slow, climb, by means of the daily unapplauded effort, up the ladder of life. True, the regeneration of human nature takes millions of years, but the pointing of human nature in the right direction can be done in the twinkling of an eye.

Meantime, all honor to the battered and wayworn human race.

(From Sunrise magazine, October 1951; copyright © 1951 Theosophical University Press)

I think it not improbable that man, like the grub that prepares a chamber for the winged thing it never has seen but is to be — that man may have cosmic destinies he does not understand. And so beyond the vision of battling races and an impoverished earth, I catch a dreaming glimpse of peace. — Oliver Wendell Holmes

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