Do Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth

There is some pretty unreliable advice floating around. Take the maxim:
—–“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

Anyone who has read Homer’s Iliad, where the Greeks leave a giant, wooden horse outside the gates of Troy–with Odysseus and his soldiers hidden inside–might prefer:
—–“When you’ve been defending Troy for the past seven years and you find a wooden horse outside the gates of your walled city, you should look in its mouth before bringing it inside”.

Admittedly, you have the option of falling back on that other maxim:
—–“Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”.

Perhaps the saying about gift horses is advising us how to be gracious if someone offers us a free horse. This hasn’t come up for me recently, but maybe in the old West a neighbor might have dropped by with old Nessie, and said:
—–“I’m sure going to miss the old girl, but I want you to have her because you’ve been such a good neighbor.”

As a gracious citizen of the world, this would not be the time to look inside Nessie’s mouth and remark that Methuselah probably had better teeth at her 200th birthday party. Instead, just pat the old nag on her flank, and ask if she comes with a bag of oats.

Now that I am getting a bit ‘long in the tooth’ myself, I find that I am not in a neighing hurry to get put out to pasture. Or perhaps I am already out in the field and just don’t know it. In any case, I seem to have the time to ponder questions such as: what in the world, or out of this world, is meant by the word ‘Mind”.

With the arrival, within the past century, of Eastern spiritual perspectives on our Western shores, something that was lacking in our modern, technological society also arrived. Many are finding that they can now access another way of looking at life, and that—if we are all lucky—this may help us to slow down an accelerating momentum that no one seems able to control.

Meditation and mindfulness allow us to experience the wholeness of the cosmos in a way that provides a mirror in which we can orient ourselves as conscious individuals.

So why are these two dimensions of Mind—our individuality and the cosmic realm we inhabit —so infiltrated with confusion, carelessness, and fear? Did someone not look carefully enough inside the horse’s mouth, before signing the bill or sale? It seems that the dynamic of being a self, who is separated from his world, doesn’t allow us to influence either our world or our walled city of individuality.

I am drawn to the view that our materialistic, technological society is receiving the seeds for a new renaissance through Eastern contemplative traditions, and that the ways of knowing which these endangered traditions offer are worth preserving.

However, people whom I know and respect view human life and consciousness as organic and constantly evolving–not inherently dependent on old texts and people who understand them.

In this view, if humanity is to survive it will be because we respond to the needs of the time, and find ways to manifest what is called for in the circumstances of our lives.

Perhaps both ways of looking are two faces of a single truth.

2 comments to “Do Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth”
  1. Now what would I ever do with free horse? Load it up with the hay I will need to buy to keep it going? That’s hardly free. I am talking consequences here. But the freely offered gift of the teachings? That might be different, that might hold different consequences. As one deeply acquires or embodies or finds within or becomes the mirroring presence you point to here… Who knows what would follow? The living out the finding out would be, or so it strikes me, quite an adventure.

  2. Ken, I like the way you remind us that some gifts are more valuable than others. The gifts that unlock us, so that we find the treasure we were seeking already inside, are my favorite. Now that’s a horse of a different color.

    And I suspect you already have a pretty good idea of “what would follow” . . .

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