Wait Patiently — No Answer Comes Before its Time — patience, indeed, is a virtue. Be willing to wait with anticipation and joy.
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Today’s concept has a lot in common with this old saw:
“Where did you find the book you were looking for?”
Answer: “The last place I looked.”
And it’s also part and parcel with the old joke:
A guy is on his hands and knees under a streetlamp, looking for something.
A friend walks by and asks him what he’s looking for.
“My keys. I dropped them.”
His friend squats down and helps him look.
After an hour, neither has found the missing keys.
The friend says, “Are you sure this is where you lost them?”
“No, I dropped them over there, on my porch.”
Exasperated, the friend says, “We’ve just wasted an hour! Why are we looking over here?”
Nonplused, the man says, “Why, because the light is better over here!”
No answer CAN come before its time, because we don’t recognize it as the answer until we are ready to hear it.
And as the joke reminds us, it is of course easier to search for answers in the light of what we know, rather than to risk the fearful darkness in order to find the missing key.
So to speak.
I was reading a Zen book the other day, which is a “lovely to look at” kind of book. It’s called, Zen in 10 Simple Lessons.
The book emphasises the simplicity of the principles of Zen, of which are few indeed. As a matter of fact, Zen can be boiled down to “simply sitting.” Yet within that simple sitting is the patient exploration of the space between breaths… or the contemplation of a koan, (a riddle)… or a day spent in reflection in a Zen Garden.
At the same time, each day spent in contemplation is complemented by “chopping wood and carrying water.” Everyday Zen, every day.
One does this for many years, for a lifetime, despite knowing that there is only a possibility that enlightenment will come.
I remember watching the TV show “Kung Fu” as a teen, and seeing the child version of Kwai Chang Caine standing at the gate to the Shaolin Monastery. He waited for days before he was admitted — a clear test of his patient resolve. I’m still amazed with that series, and with the essentially slow pace of it…
…because patience — or “waiting patiently” — grates on western nerves.
Another way of thinking about our idea for the week might be this:
No Answer Comes Before it is Earned.
Many people get quite good at the techniques required for “just sitting,” and yet peace of mind eludes them. We then understand that one does not find wisdom by learning a technique. Wisdom is found in the “not knowing” — in the gaps between each breath.
In the west, there is an expectation that we have the “right” to what we want, and the expectation is that whatever it is should come quickly and preferably painlessly. People do not want to hear that they have to wait and practice and focus and then “sit and breathe” for a while.
They have not developed the skill of patiently waiting, while living out each day fully and completely.
No, this is not a popular thing. And especially it’s not popular because most people have already figured out the answer they want to receive.
They are not happy when the answer is: “There is no answer.”
This is one of those difficult to penetrate concepts. Let me try it this way. What if I adopt two concepts and live them for a while (perhaps a decade or two.)
Concept 1 = there are no answers.
Concept 2 = (from last week) take nothing for granted.
What this might mean, say, in a relationship, is:
Concept 1: Nothing in this relationship actually means anything other than whatever meaning I give it, so I can please myself, anger myself, bore myself, and emphatically I can learn about myself, or not. And none of that will have anything to do with the other person.
Concept 2: If I do not cling to the other person, I can engage with the other person as fully as I choose to.
In other words, whatever I am going to learn about myself in the relationship is directly proportional to my letting go of expectations and clinging.
And this is so with everything.
Answers come precisely at the point when we stop clinging to our need for them.
Solutions materialize in the living out of life, not in avoidance. (That’s the meaning of “chop wood, carry water.” It’s about answers coming in the midst of life, not out of special circumstances, timing, or “being special.”)
You can’t force an answer, and you can’t make an answer conform to a pre-conceived notion of what it ought to be. Answers come when you get out of their way, while living your life fully in the interim.
This week, have a breath and let go of chasing after what seems to resist showing up. Instead, sit in the moment. Let the moment expand, without judgement. And see if the answer arrives, in it’s own time. Not as a goal to be sought, but as an unfolding of your experience, moment by moment.