Every human was given a valuable life purpose, but it is up to each individual to find it in themselves. A great purpose involves working in symphony others to create a better world. It is greater than the self and that is why it transcends all the elements and forms of self-seeking. It does not demand fame, power or wealth, helping one person is enough. However, it requires an open heart, respect and acceptance for all regardless of who they are and what they do. A divinely given purpose also treasures the planet and understands the need for ecological balance among all living things.
People who live a life of great purpose display palpable qualities, passion, loyalty, dedication and commitment to one another and to what they are doing. More importantly, they go way beyond their reach. I was reminded of these things on my sixtieth birthday when I decided to hike the Inca Trail towards the ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru.
Four of us, all Americans, arrived at the city of Cusco to begin our Peruvian vacation. As per the local law, a guide was assigned to us, along with two porters per person to carry food, tents sleeping bags, etc. Our “delegation” now comprised fifteen people, four gringos, one guide, and ten porters (here is the math, 4 + 1 + (5 x 2) = 15). The porters were Quechua, an indigenous Peruvian race that speaks a language by the same name. Not one of them spoke English and only their leader spoke Spanish.
The Quechua have a long history of servitude. The Incas were the first to enslave them, then the Spaniards abused them. Today it is the landowners who take advantage of them. Most work the land and live with their families in mud made huts. Most of their money comes from being porters for the tourists, but it is common knowledge the tourism companies exploit these workers. For this reason, they rely mostly on tips from the foreign travelers they serve.
The porters are your servants. They each will haul up to 45 lbs. of food, tents, sleeping bags, cooking utensils, water and your clothing and extra gear. By comparison, all vacationers carry is a small daypack with a water bottle, camera (your phone) and some rain gear. Travelers come from the world over equipped with the latest in hiking equipment; boots, walking sticks, clothing, hats, etc. Porters do their jobs wearing their tattered clothes and sandals. Unlike the fancy backpacks I have used on hiking trips, their packs are old canvas bags that don’t even have a frame. Yet, they will race up and down the steep terrain leaving you in their dust while offering you words of encouragement.
When we arrived at our end-of-day destination, they gathered with their happy smiles and pats on our backs to congratulate us for a job well done . The camp was always assembled when we tourists arrived and they had warm food ready for us. When darkness overtook our camp, they patiently waited for us to finish our after dinner conversation before hanging their sleep hammocks. That eating tent was their only protection from the bitter cold that lingers at an elevation of fourteen thousand feet.
Every morning, just after the break of dawn, you could barely hear them as they prepared our breakfast. When they were ready, they approached our tents and awakened us with quiet voices and a ready waiting pail of warm water to wash up. They also brought for each of us a hot cup of coca leaves tea or coffee.
There is a miraculous transformation that occurred with each passing day. At first you could not help but to admire their selflessness and good nature. Slowly, however, you began to realize how amazing they were. Sure, bending over backwards to make the tourists feel special is a good business practice. It certainly helps them get bigger tips. But there was more to it than that, you could sense a genuine joy in their desire to make you comfortable. There were other extraordinary things. You could see the love and commitment they shared with one another. This was apparent in the way they helped the older and slower members of their team get loaded up and start on their way before the others.
I have worked for large organizations all of my life and I can attest to the fact that most working groups I have seen do not help the least among them. The expectations for every team member are that they must pull their own weight. Because we are measured in the workplace by our individual accomplishments, when a team member falters and affects the team’s performance, the tendency of the other teammates is to complain to their supervisor about that person’s bad performance. Seldom do you see a team rally around the weaker person to help carry their workload.
This was not so among the porters. Their measure was the first-rate performance of the entire team. They understood that each person was not made to contribute in the same exact way. Without complaint, they meshed beautifully the talent each individual possessed and utilized their strengths and weaknesses in a way that their team could perform at its highest ability. What made them so amazing was in seeing how much they appreciated the contribution each one of them made towards the team. When one of them stumbled, the others were there to pick him up. Their whole was greater than the sum of their individual parts.
We did not get to share the joy and magic of Machu Picchu with our porters, for they were to return all the gear to their company after cleaning up camp after our last breakfast. Our guide gathered the entire group for one last time so we could say goodbye. Our watery eyes were evidence that, to a person, Americans and Quechua, we had bonded over our five-day excursion even though we lacked the words to communicate our feelings. We hugged one another as we tried holding back our tears.
Although this had been a vacation trip, we knew they had transformed our experience into the trip of a lifetime. The four of us tried to address the group to give them our thanks, but our tears choked our individual declarations.
Then came their turn. Letting their leader translate, they thanked us for allowing them to help us fulfill our dreams, for they knew many of us save for years to take a trip like Machu Picchu. Each one affirmed their individual pleasure for having contributed to our joyful experience. By the time they finished, there was not a dry eye on those hallowed grounds. We all knew about the servile history of the Quechua, yet, in spite of it, they possessed a strength of spirit you seldom see in people.
After breaking camp, we descended on to our destination. Machu Picchu is a magical experience, everyone should visit this wonder of the world. After we were done exploring the ruins, a van transported the four of us towards the city of Aguas Calientes. On the way there we ran into a substantial traffic jam caused by several police officers. They were well armed in their ironed uniforms and had placed their shiny new trucks and jeeps as barricades to stop all cars at a major intersection. They were checking for valid vehicle registrations. The penalty for not having an up-to-date registration was a $25 ticket. However, you could get out of the ticket by paying the officer what amounted to a $10 bribe.
I realize that it is important for vehicles to have a proper and up-to-date registration, but there was no greater good being served here. This was simply a fraudulent income extravaganza for these officers. They were abusing their authority simply because they could. Their action emanated fear, loathing and mistrust. There is no question in my mind these individuals live isolated lives, surrounded by a public that is afraid of them and with colleagues and leaders they mistrust because of their lack of integrity. Although it may not be this obvious, many of us have experienced this kind of toxic environment throughout our lives,
Do you see the difference? Which would you choose if you lived in Peru, to be a porter or a cop? I rather be part of the porters on any given day. They may be poor, but their focus on the greater good brings them more joyful and fulfilling lives than the abuse of power brings the cops.
Discovering your true purpose is a holy quest, but one that will allow your soul to soar with a greater love and appreciation for life. Do not be afraid to go on your journey, your human circumstances cannot block you from the blessings the universe is ready to bestow.
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