An important guest

Waiting presents an enormous challenge.

We are impatient, I-can-fix-it kinds of people . . . but not all situations can be fixed. We assume that everything in life can be made better by taking action, but sometimes it just isn’t so. We shrink when we are presented with situations where action does no good at all. We deplore the passivity of waiting. Yet waiting is an enormous opportunity if we regard it as a wise teacher. Waiting offers us a great deal when we choose to learn.

Waiting is an important guest to honor in the guest house of our humanity. If we consciously allow waiting to be our teacher, we can accommodate waiting more peacefully. If we welcome waiting as a spiritual discipline, waiting will present its spiritual gifts. Waiting contains some of our richest spiritual opportunities if we are conscious enough and courageous enough to name them and live into them.

Holly Whitcomb, The Seven Spiritual Gifts of Waiting


Qualities to keep the heart open: Be as patient as the moss and as vulnerable as the oaks. 

Isn’t it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about

spiritual patience? Isn’t it clear
the black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead.

Mary Oliver, Landscape (extract)

When things don’t turn out as planned

Patience and waiting are some of the themes of this season of Advent

So there has been a blockage in terms of what we expect. It happens quite often: the bus or train is late; the visitor doesn’t show up; the machine breaks down – and so on. And when that happens, your mind can do one of a number of things. Firstly, you can get annoyed and blame someone (or blame yourself). Secondly, you can feel depressed and cheated by life. Thirdly, you can wait patiently. And finally, your mind can pause, open and appreciate the space where the will relaxes and it feels good to be conscious with nothing to do and nowhere to go. 

The significant point is that when you can’t get what you want, your underlying tendencies to get exasperated or feel let down come up – and they then interpret the situation as ‘lazy disorganized people’ or ‘no one considers my feelings’. Actually there are generally a number of causes as to why things don’t go my way — the Buddha just called it ‘dukkha’ – but the immediate reaction and interpretation are an indication of tendencies in one’s own mind. 

We don’t have to guess at why things aren’t going according to plan; and jumping to a conclusion is always a move into the shadows of one’s own mind.  So, pause. A pause is not a disapproval or a judgement; it’s an opening of attention.  Pausing is an essential, deep and accessible practice.

Ajahn Sucitto, Learning the Pause


Wait on the Lord” is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait ….. When action is needed, light will come.

J.I. Parker, 1926 – 2020 Canadian evangelical theologian, cleric and writer 

Simple and slow

Technologies of the soul tend to be simple, bodily, slow and related to the heart as much as the mind.  Everything around us tells us we should be mechanically sophisticated, electronic, quick, and informational in our expressiveness – an exact antipode to the virtues of the soul.  It is no wonder, then, that in an age of telecommunications – which, by the way, literally means “distant connections” – we suffer symptoms of the loss of soul.  We are being urged from every side to become efficient rather than intimate.

Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life