Patience, People

Advent is a time of patience, and our patience is soon to be rewarded!

Among the various reflections I receive daily via e-mail were two that relate, albeit in slightly different ways, to the theme of patience. The first is Eknath Easwaren’s observation that

There is a close connection between speed and impatience. Our culture has become so speeded up today that no one has time to be patient. People in a hurry cannot be patient—so people in a hurry cannot really love. To love, we need to be sensitive to those around us, which is impossible if we are racing through life engrossed in all the things we need to do.

The second is from Caryll Houselander’s The Reed of God (a slim volume worth reading in its entirety). Houselander writes

Strangely enough, those who complain the loudest of the emptiness of their lives are usually people whose lives are overcrowded, filled with trivial details, plans, desires, ambitions, unsatisfied cravings for passing pleasures, doubts, anxieties and fears…. Our own effort will consist in sifting and sorting out everything that is not essential and that fills up space and silence in us and in discovering what sort of shape this emptiness in us is. From this we shall learn what sort of purpose God has for us. In what way are we to fulfill the work of giving Christ life in us?

Speeded up lives, overcrowded with too many nonessentials. Our invitation is to slow down and to lay aside the nonessentials, and to wait and see what God has in store for us.

What If

I had a frustrating couple of days. In an attempt to fix a problem I had been having since getting my new computer at the law school (we lease computers and they are replaced every three years), IT managed to accidentally eliminate all of my e-mail archive folders. Since I use those folders like a file cabinet, they are not really “archives;” rather, many of the thousands of messages and attachments stored there contain material I currently need.

Fortunately, by the middle of the day yesterday, my files were restored, so my only loss was the loss of almost two days of working time at my computer while IT sought to solve the problem. But my anxiety ran high, fueled by various other, albeit smaller, things that were not going smoothly.

At one point yesterday, while Kelly was working on my computer, I was standing outside of my office looking at something I had taped to my door. An excerpt from Bandon Bays book Freedom Is, it was exactly what I needed to read. Here it is:

What if you realized that everything that is taking place is happening for a reason and a purpose that you can’t fully understand yet?…What if you were to fully, completely, and utterly just accept what’s here?…

What if it is entirely the will of grace and is out of your hands?…What if there is nothing you can do, should do or ought to do to fix it?…What if you finally felt what it feels like to completely and totally relax and accept that what is here is what is meant to be, in this moment?…

What if, in absolutely accepting, you chose now to stop struggling…give up…relax…just relax…let go?…

What if, as you let go, you felt yourself deeply releasing, falling, opening, relaxing into a spacious embrace of infinite presence?…What if this presence was surrounding you, suffusing you, pulling you ever deeper…opening…relaxing… trusting…trusting…trusting?…

How would it feel to rest in an ocean of trust…just being…effortless being?…

What if you gave up the need to figure it out, find the answers, fix it, change it, make it right? What if you just accepted totally that what is here is what is here?…

Reading those words helped me to breathe a little easier, reminding me that this was what was. I could do nothing to change the situation. All I could do was stop struggling and let go.

A Lesson In Patience (or I’m Really Not in Control, So What Am I Going to Do?)

I am at the University of St. Thomas Gainey Center in Owatanna, where I am giving a weekend retreat for UST undergraduates. Owatanna is about 65 miles southeast of where I live in Chanhassen. Normally it takes me a little over an hour to get there.

In the aftermath of Thursday’s snowstorm, the roads between my home and Gainey yesterday were treacherous and traffic was miserable. (Re treacherous: after 15 or 16, I lost track of disabled vehicles in ditches or snowbanks.) There was one point where we just sat on the road without moving for a while, after which I think I traveled quite a distance at somewhere between one and two miles an hour. There were periodic letups in the traffic, just enough to tempt one to believe conditions would be better, but they never lasted all that long. To top it off, the road was closed two exits before the one I wanted, requiring several miles of driving on a secondary road that had less traffic, but much more snow. I arrived at Gainey just shy of three hours after I pulled out of my driveway.

There is nothing to do in such a situation except to breathe deeply, be in the present moment, and patiently accept the conditions for what they are.

Of course, there are people who try to do otherwise. One driver, annoyed at the slow conditions, decided the thing to do was to pull to the right and drive along the right shoulder. That worked for about 20 seconds, after which he found himself stuck in deep snow. Others would speed up as soon as they saw a patch or road without snow (there were a few) – I saw one truck who did that almost jackknife (a bit too close to my car for my comfort).

Traffic or otherwise, we will find ourselves in situations we can’t control, sometimes situations that are not to our liking. We can’t control the situations, but we can choose how to react to them.

In Every Breath

I’m enjoying a few days in New York, where I came to attend the opening of my cousin Joe’s sculpture show. It is always good to be with family and friends and it is always a special pleasure to be at Joe’s openings.

For a Saturday morning reflection, I thought I’d share a poem by Rumi that a friend sent me yesterday in response to an exchange we had about our shared lack of patience in certain situations.

Rumi writes:

in every breath
if you’re the center
of your own desires
you’ll lose the grace
of your beloved

but if in every breath
you blow away
your self claim
the ecstasy of love
will soon arrive

in every breath
if you’re the center
of your own thoughts
the sadness of autumn
will fall on you

but if in every breath
you strip naked
just like a winter
the joy of spring
will grow from within

all your impatience
comes from the push
for gain of patience
let go of the effort
and peace will arrive

all your unfulfilled desires
are from your greed
for gain of fulfillments
let go of them all
and they will be sent as gifts

fall in love with
the agony of love
not the ecstasy
then the beloved
will fall in love with you.

Wishing everyone a blessed weekend.

Me and My Computer

I don’t tend to be attached to things. There is little I own that I could not part with fairly easily, by which I mean I might be initially a bit upset if it were destroyed, but would get over reasonably quickly.

The exception is my computer. I sometimes joke that if Jesus said drop everything and come follow me, I’d ask, “Could I back up my computer first.” Everything I am working on is on my computer, although I do try to back-up things reasonably frequently (kind of).

I’ve now been without my laptop for two days. Some weirdness began on Friday, affecting some of my operations and preventing me from backing anything up. I brought the computer into the law school IT folks Monday morning and by Monday afternoon, it was in worse shape than in the morning. IT worked on it all day yesterday and will continue working this morning.

I think it is pretty fair to say my behavior Monday was pretty unimpressive. I was practically unable to focus on any work as I fretted over not having my computer and not knowing what was that status of all that was on my computer. Seriously, you would think some major tragedy was at hand as I paced unhappily around my office. Monday afternoon I wrote to a friend of mine, “At times like these I wonder how much progress I’ve made from years of meditating, as I sit here trying to focus on my breath and reach a state of calm when what I really want to do is climb the walls (or jump out the window).”

As soon as sent the note I realized the craziness of allowing myself to get crazy over this. Was some horrendous tragedy going to occur as a result of my being without my computer for a couple of days? True I had a set of projects I had planned to get substantial work done on this week, but was the world really going to suffer if they were delayed by a couple of days? And even if the worst happened – that everything that hadn’t been backed up was lost, would that really be a the end of the world?

No, no and no. I took a few more breaths. Yes, this was (is) annoying. Yes, it was (is) frustrating. Yes, it affected (and continues to affect) my work. But it is what it is. A few more deep breaths. It will resolve itself and no worrying on my part will affect how that resolution occurs. So let go the anxiety. Let it be. It worked – yesterday I was much calmer about the whole situation.

I, of course, still hope that when I get into the office this morning I will hear some good news indicating that I will soon have a functioning computer back. But I go in with peace in my heart and an ability to accept whatever news I am given.

Patience During Transitions

I noticed recently that I have the most difficulty being patient during transition periods, that is, during the last stages of something.

The last few minutes before a plane takes off, after everyone is in their seats with their seat belts buckled. Why aren’t we in the air yet?

The last ten minutes or so of a meeting. All the business is finished, why is there chit-chat instead of adjournment so I can leave?

Waiting for a check at the end of the meal in a restaurant. They cleared the dessert dishes away, why aren’t they bringing the check?

As I was reflecting on this (having noticed my impatience during the interim between the time my plane landed and the time we were permitted to disembark), I realized that my impatience in situations like that has to do with the fact that I’ve mentally already moved on to the next thing. My mind says, this event/experience is over and so time between “over” and the beginning of the next thing is wasted time.

As soon as I articulated that to myself, I could see the problem: the unstated assumption behind my impatience is that nothing in the present moment could possibly be worthwhile. Of course there could be something quite worthwhile, and the lack of mindfulness inherent in my impatience would make me miss it.

My resolve: to try in such situations to stay in the present moment. To let go the idea that it is already time for the next thing and to stay with the present thing until the end.

I Shall Cultivate the Ground Around It

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus tells the parable it is easy for us to misunderstand – the parable of the person who had a fig tree in his orchard. Finding no fruit on the tree for the third year in a row, the owner instructs his gardener to cut the tree down. After all, “why exhaust the soil?” The gardener, however, asks the owner to refrain from destroying the tree, arguing that it is better to “cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it” for it “may bear fruit in the future.”

Those who favor a fire and brimstone Gospel message can easily come to the mistaken conclusion that it is God who demands that the tree be cut down. (Indeed, making that mistake was the reason I always had difficulty with this passage.) The reality, however, is that it is we who would be quick to cut the tree down, quick as we are to condemn others. We’re the ones like the owner – generally a lot better at demanding quick retribution than patience and forgiveness.

The God figure in Jesus’ parable, however, is not the owner, but the gardener. God has unending patience and constantly tries to “cultivate” and “fertilize” us – giving us numerous opportunities to “bear fruit.” God sees our potential even when no one else does and is willing to nurture us along, long after we, were we in God’s position, would give up.

God patiently withholds his judgment even when we ignore his calls, hoping that we will ultimately hear his call.

Understanding that reality ought to call forth two responses in us. The first is gratitude at God’s love and patience. The second is a desire to follow God’s model and offer each other the same patience and love we receive from God.

Be the First to Give Way in a Squabble

I don’t always read the Meditation of the Day contained in Magnificat, but last night I happened to notice yesterday’s meditation, which came form the Jerusalem Community Rule of Life. (As described on their website, the Jerusalem Community consistes of “two religious institutes of brothers and sisters whose vocation it is to provide an oasis of prayer, silence and peace in the ‘desert’ of modern cities.”)

What drew my attention in the excerpt from the rule of life was this:

You should be intelligent and holy enough to be the first to give way in a quarrel; and never let squabbles over trifles harm your deep union with your brothers. You may be in the right but your duty is not to let the sun go down on your anger.

When I read those lines, what came immediately came to mind was a similar expression by Shantideva, an eighth century Buddhist philosopher. In his Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, which I first read some years ago, Shantideva writes: “When, out of envy, others mistreat me with abuse, insults or the like, I shall accept defeat and offer the victory to others.”

The wisdom of the advice seems sound to me. What matters most, especially in community, is restoring harmony, allowing love to flow. What matters is to not allowing “squabbles over trifles harm [our] deep union” with each other.

Sound as it is, the advice is not all that easy to follow. I don’t find it particularly difficult to acknowledge my mistakes or to apologize when I believe I’ve acted badly. But “giving way” when I think I’m in the right, “offer[ing] the victory” to one I feel has mistreated me – that’s a challenge.

And so I pray for the grace to give way more easily…to be willing to accept the defeat and offer victory to others, even when I feel I am in the right.

In the Morning You Will See the Glory of the Lord

“Are we there yet?” “Is it time yet?”

As we do each year, we spend four weeks preparing ourselves for Christmas. We wait in joyful hope, we actively prepare to welcome (anew) the Christ into our hearts and homes. We pray, we tell the stories of our ancestors, we take stock, we recommit ourselves.

And now, our time of waiting in joyful hope is almost at an end. The preparations have been made and, ready or not, the time is almost here. In the words of Exodus, “In the morning you will see the glory of the Lord.”

As we wrap the last of the Christmas presents, send off those last cards, pack for holiday visits, and prepare the feast we will share with family and friends, let us continue to rejoice that our God comes and to reflect on how we may bring the good news of God’s presence and love to others.

Happy Christmas Eve!

An Appointed Time for Everything

During the folk masses in my parish in the late 1960’s, one of the songs that we sang with some regularity was the Birds, Turn, Turn, Turn! (To Everything There is a Season). At some point, I came to realize that the song was adapted almost entirely from today’s first Mass reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every thing under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant….A time to weep, and a time to laugh..a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embrace. A time to seek, and a time to lose…a time to be silent, and a time to speak…

I wonder sometimes if I am any better at accepting the truth of this passage now than I was when I joyfully sang out the words of the song during our folk masses over forty years ago.

A Tibetan lama whose teachings I studied when I lived in Nepal and India used to accuse Westerners of having an “Instant Coffee” mentality. We want what we want NOW. We love e-mail because then we don’t have to wait for the time it takes to send something by post. We eat food out of the growing season of the area in which we live because not having a particular food item until it is naturally available is not acceptable to us. I could list plenty of examples, as could any of you, without any real difficulty, on matters of greater or lesser significance.

As hard as it is for us, I think there is some value in accepting that there is a time for everything, and that time is not necessarily now. Things have their own rhythm and develop in their own time. What a difference it could make to our peace of mind and our moods (and therefore, I suspect, to the happiness of those who come in contact with us) if we could simply embrace and accept those rhythms. If we could let go of our need for immediate satisfaction of whatever our current need or desire happens to be.