Dashing down the stairs to make the train on my last day of work before maternity leave was probably not the best idea, but I made it without going into labor. As I slid into the train car just before the doors closed a young man of about 13 moved his bag over to offer me a seat. There were plenty of other seats so I smiled and walked to an empty section. About 30 seconds later the music started, followed by the predicted call and response. “What time is it?” called out the boy who had offered me the seat. “It’s show time!” answered his friend. I had my earphones in, but I took them out to listen and watch. I try to always show my support, because even if I’m not in the mood for “show time”, I know it’s tough to put yourself out there and perform in front of an audience, especially an audience of cranky commuting New Yorkers.
Another woman on the train did not feel the same way. She had been sitting across from them, but when the music started she yelled out, “Turn it down. It’s too loud.” And stomped over to the window where the conductor stands. They turned the music down a tiny bit and started their performance. It wasn’t enough for her. She pushed the red call button to tell the conductor that some boys with a “ghetto blaster” were performing in the train car.
“Ghetto blaster!” one of the boys exclaimed. “Oh no, she did not just call us ghetto!”
Boom Box may have been a better choice of phrase.
“I was referring to the music, not to you.” She tried to explain. But the bigger boy wouldn’t have it. The train conductor came and tried to smooth things over. I could tell she sympathized with the boys even though their performance was technically illegal. Eventually the smaller boy said, “Come on man, don’t worry about what one ignorant person says.” A few people on the train, including me, pulled out dollar bills to give to the boys for their intent to perform even though the show was cancelled. But when I saw the bigger boy throw his empty bag of chips on the ground, I put my money away.
When the train stopped at 14th street they jetted up the stairs and I waddled like a fatted goose. Assuming they were far ahead, I continued walking on 14th Street, where they appeared right in front of me.
“Hey guys,” I called out. “I was on the train and saw what happened. I know how hard it is to put yourself out there to perform. Not everybody is going to make it easy for you, but you’ve got to keep trying.” I handed the dollar to the smaller boy and said, “I noticed that you were going to offer me your seat. Thank you.” Then I turned to the bigger boy and said, “And I noticed you threw your trash on the ground. That was the only “ghetto” thing that happened on that train. If you want people to respect you, you have to be respectful too.”
He nodded. “I’m sorry Miss. You’re right. I like your eyes.” He said.
“Good luck with the baby!” the other boy chimed in.
The boys reminded me of a great lesson. One chose the high road and one did not. We’ve all been in those situations where someone disrespects us or behaves in a subpar way. We can see these moments as reason to be disrespectful in return, to lower our standards and behave the way people expect us to or we can see them as a call to rise up and demonstrate our own impeccability.
Shamans value impeccability as the key ingredient that leads to invisibility. This is not Harry Potter invisibility. But there is a certain magic to it. Invisibility in the shamanic philosophy means that we leave no ripples of harm through our words, no damage through our actions, we leave no trace of karma behind. In this way we become invisible to the people and circumstances that may want to hurt us, disrespect us or hold us back from our work in the world. Then we are able to do that work with more ease and effectiveness. Invisibility is something people often try to use to hide their unwholesome behavior, but it is only truly granted to those who have mastered the art of impeccability. We can all practice this art in small ways everyday. Even if the grocery store cashier is rude, but she mistakenly gives us an extra five dollars change, we can give it back. Rather than following suit with the other drivers and driving on the shoulder to edge our way into traffic, we can wait our turn. Even if our boss is overly critical and often late for work, we can show up on time and do our best, because to lower ourselves to the standards of others is much more harmful than anything they can do to us.
All the little things we do are practice for the big things in life that will create the course of our destiny. If we choose to be impeccable with the small things, we will have a much easier time with the big things for which our reward will be far greater than we could have anticipated. And the truth is, especially in a crowded place like New York City, someone is always watching, like a pregnant yoga teacher with a dollar in hand.