Watching and Waiting
There are many schools of meditation, but interestingly, they all take us to the same place. This place might be described as a state of stillness or relaxation, wherein our spiritual consciousness rises to the forefront of our awareness. It is like a landscape—a vast, wide-open, endless plateau, a place where being supersedes doing. In fact, the only things we find ourselves doing in this place are watching and waiting.
From our plateau of being it is as if we have a bird’s-eye view of our own inner realm. Little by little, as we develop this transcendent perspective, we begin to discern inner activity that we have perhaps never noticed before—thoughts and emotions that have been going on all along but without us paying much attention to them. This process is like the shining of a light into the dark hidden crevices of our psyche. That is why it is called enlightenment. It is also a process whereby we make the inner activities that have been going on unconsciously conscious. Thus we also often refer to it under the broad heading: consciousness.
It is not long before this kind of watching or observation of our inner workings becomes like second nature to us. It becomes a familiar process that requires little effort or discipline on our part. We just click into it and go from there. And not only can it be an interesting and fascinating pastime; it can even be fun. There is an element of growth, progress, and positive discovery about it that we find strengthening and energizing. It is especially edifying when, through this process, we come to recognize a particularly troublesome old pattern of thought or emotion—one that has been at work within us for so long that it has actually come to define an aspect of our personality. (For example, if it involves anger or jealousy, others come to look at us as an angry or jealous person.). And not only do we recognize that it has it come to define us; we also see that it has been controlling us. Thus we come to understand that observing and recognizing inner workings such as these and bringing them into the light of consciousness can have a profound liberating effect on us. That is why we often feel exhilarated when this happens. It is as if the simple act of watching has become a power in our lives. It does not require too much of us and can bring wonderful results.
But the second part to our meditative doing, waiting, might prove to be a little more challenging for us. It can be just as rewarding as watching (if not more so), but it is generally more difficult for us to practice and benefit from.
Watching is something that we human beings can do simply as an act of our own will. It is a natural human function and therefore comes relatively easy for us. But the ability to wait is in many ways a gift of grace. It does not come naturally for us and is not something we generally like or choose to do. It is also a spiritual quality—one that involves those difficult conceptual realities of faith, belief, and trust. Why is this? Because when we practice waiting we must also believe and trust that the spiritual infusion we are waiting for is a real power and not merely imaginary or hoped-for.
One of the things that watching accomplishes is a sort of emptying out of our psyche’s content. This is because it exposes our unwanted thoughts and emotions, which, in turn, causes them to lose steam and gradually drop away. It was the unconscious hidden aspect of their operation that energized them and lent them a degree of tenacity. But when our watchful presence exposes them, they tend to become disoriented and lose that edge of tenacity. At that point it is not long before they disappear. Like kids playing a game that no longer feels fun to them, these old unconscious patterns of thought and emotion, once exposed by the light of consciousness, no longer find what they have been doing very appealing. And so they tend to quit the game altogether.
Gradually, as we persist in our practice of mindfulness, our inner world becomes more and more emptied out and still. It is as if those old disturbing patterns of thought and emotion had been occupying a lot of space in our psyche, and when they vacate there is a vacuum that is created. It is at this point that waiting will, in all probability, come into prominence in our experience. Why is this? Because we intuitively realize that we can’t refill that newly created vacuum inside of us with just any old content. To do so would be to invite the old toxic patterns of thought and emotion to come back in and control us again. We also gain the vision that the fresh new content we are yearning for must be both life-affirming and powerful; it must be inspiring and elevating; it must be healing and electrifying, and it must be eternal and holy. In short, it must be divine. Otherwise, there is little point in practicing mindfulness and emptying ourselves of those old negative mental patterns. Thus we learn to wait rather than to take matters into our own hands. What are we waiting for? Often we are not sure. But something inside of us tells us that there are goodness and power inherent in this universe—spiritual goodness and divine power. And if we can just be patient, they will come to us.
It does not take long, however, before we discover that taking this posture of waiting can be a little tricky and even debilitating. What happens is that as we wait upon the divine life to fill us, we find that we are confronted with many of our old systems of belief about such matters and must wade through them, sort them out, and perhaps even revamp them in order to be able to keep waiting gracefully. It is not uncommon for this predicament to effectuate an entire reexamining of our belief systems. It may even spur a crisis of faith, in which we find ourselves wondering if universal divinity even exists.
The problem involves the fact that, generally speaking, once we have proceeded to empty ourselves out through the practice of mindfulness or watching, nothing happens immediately. There we are, empty and waiting to be filled, but that filling does not necessarily take place according to our desire and timetable. We know better than to panic and try to fill the void ourselves, but at the same time we will probably be asking ourselves: “What’s happening here? We have done the emptying out, now where is the promised filling?” And the only answer that comes is: “You have to be patient and learn to wait.” We think it should happen instantly, but, as it turns out, the universe has its own intelligence about such matters. It knows us better than we know ourselves. Can we really trust this? The temptation will be to try to make things happen in our own strength. That is why waiting can trigger a crisis of faith for us. For, not only are we being called upon to wait and be patient; we must also trust that there is something inherent in our universe’s created workings that will eventually fill us with the divine essence.
Moreover, there are very few of us that have had recourse to nurture this kind of faith in our pasts. Our lives in this world have invariably been lived from a stance of Darwinian self-reliance. That is what we were taught to do from the day of our birth. But now our own emptying out process has demanded that we learn to wait and trust in a higher power--an unseen power that is greater than ourselves. We want to believe that such a power exists, but the actual hands-on trust element can prove elusive for us.
Therefore the posture of waiting may very well present us with a difficult challenge. It may cause us to search our hearts afresh about our long-held belief system. We may find ourselves asking questions such as these: Is there really a life force inherent in our universe that operates in this capacity and fills human beings with new divine content once they have emptied themselves out of all the lifeless human stuff? And if so, what is it like? How do we recognize it? And how can we know with certainty when this filling has taken place? These are valid questions that need truthful answers—answers that are there for the finding. The real dilemma for us is not laying hold of the answers; it is whether or not the answers will satisfy us. If the truth about the divine life and its operation does not line up with what we have previously thought or believed and if we are attached to those old beliefs, then we may face a roadblock up ahead. It is absolutely within our capability to learn the truth about the divine, but we have to be willing to let go of the untruths we have been clinging to.
The good news is that there is a divine life force operational in our universe. The bad news is that it is not very easy for us to comprehend or relate to it. Why is this? Because the divine life force is purely spiritual, while we tend to be overly pragmatic and at times unspiritual. The divine life is quiet and unassuming, while we, based on our former egoic orientation, might be looking for high drama and irrefutable signs. So even if we believe that such a life force is extant, we often have trouble accepting how it operates and what it is truly like.
This universal divine life force is the essence of all that we call spiritual. It is the source of all spirituality. As such, it might seem a little foreign to us. Humans tend to be forceful and imposing, but the Spirit does not force its way in. It never goes where it is not welcome. Humans tend to view everything through the lens of personalization, but the Spirit is strictly impersonal. And so we come to find that the Spirit operates not according to whim or caprice, but rather according to absolute immutable scientific principles. It does not judge whether we are deserving or worthy of interacting with the divine. Rather it waits until we have fulfilled every legal requirement of receptivity and then moves according to a completely predictable pattern.
What this means is that the promised filling we are waiting for happens with or without our efforts. It is not dependent upon the words we might utter in prayer or the manner in which we worship. Rather it happens based strictly on universal law or principle. That is why waiting eventually pays off.
According to universal law, our filling is activated by nothing more than the emptying out of our psyche. But since the Spirit is better attuned than we are to recognizing when this emptying out has actually been sufficiently accomplished, there may be more that we need to do in this arena. And that is why we find ourselves waiting. It is not that the spiritual principle of emptying and refilling is faulty. It is simply that the conditions of our emptying must be just so. Then once we have made the necessary corrections, the filling will most certainly take place, just as morning follows night or summer follows spring.
Another difficulty for us is that sometimes the filling takes place according to universal law, but we don’t recognize it as such. This usually happens because we were expecting something else to happen. It may be that we had our sights set on a more dramatic demonstration. This can be an almost comical predicament, as we continue to wait even when there is nothing left to wait for.
So how do we know for certain when the filling has taken place? This is where faith and trust come in. We must have faith in the universe’s immutable created workings and principles, and we must trust that if we do our part and align ourselves correctly the promised filling will invariably take place, whether we recognize it as having done so or not. As we do this, it will not be long before we begin to sense and are able to discern the change in our inner realm. Then the more we exercise this sixth sense, the more adept we will become at recognizing the Spirit’s activity and influence. Thus our meditative activities of watching and waiting will have accomplished everything that they were intended to do, and we will soon find ourselves moving regularly in the power of the Spirit, as it fills our vessel so full that it begins to flow outward from within us and thereby benefit others.