A vineyard rushes by, an orchard, a moor, a mountaintop village. From my train window, they dash in and out of sight, presenting themselves only for an instant. Now I take them in, then I forsake them for daydreams. Much is wasted. I cannot stay for long. My eyes remain open, but what looks through them peeks like a fragile newborn, and for its fragility, soon dozes off. This is my state, only made more obvious by my declining the fresh buffet of Tuscan views for pointless mental association.

Thus in and out of my own life, I disembark, haul my luggage to the hotel, check in, freshen up, and meet the group downstairs. In and out, I walk through the picturesque Florentine alleys, bars, stores, people, pets, and pigeons. In and out, I feast on fountains, columns, sculpture, and tile, or foolishly forsake them for daydreams. In and out, I arrive at the Medici Palace.

The courtyard muffles the civic noise. I scale the stairs and step into the chapel. Its walls display the Magi bearing gifts. A Madonna and Child conclude their journey. “We three kings of Orient are; bearing gifts we travel afar,” says the persistent voice of association. True, the Magi and I have both traveled afar, but they on horseback and I by train. They came bearing gifts and I empty-handed. They bore their gifts through the dangers of ancient travel, exposed to the winter cold. They did not spare in effort or generosity. No one spares in effort and generosity who is bound to a star.

Adoration-in-the-Forest-detail-of-Jesus-400pxI step closer to examine the immaculate artistry of each figure. The old king especially captures my attention. At his age, he would probably never make it back from this trip. So valuable does he deem his destination that he will lay down his life for it. He stares back at me, reflecting me to myself. “Now do you understand that everything has to be done by effort,” he seems to say, “or do you still think that things come by themselves?”

More in than out now, my gaze shifts to the infant Jesus opposite from the aged king. He too stares back at me mysteriously. “It depends on how you look,” he seems to say in playful answer to the old king. “Effort is how it seems from his point of view; gift is how it seems to me.”

Pause a moment and gaze around you. Look through your eyes. Experience consciousness peeking out like a fragile newborn. Witness how hard it is to prolong and how quickly it dozes off. This teaching teaches how to make it stay by intelligent effort. Efforts, like gifts, cannot be impersonal. We must match the effort to the moment as we would match a gift to the closest friend.

What is your gift to consciousness right now?