I was really struck when one day, a friend pointed out to me, that there is a lot of impatience in anxiety. It had never occurred to me, but how true, of course there is. I remember one year, being given two Amaryllis plants. One plant came ready potted, and began to flower within a week or two, the other came with a bag of soil and a bulb, which I dutifully planted myself. I watched the second plant with keen eyes, waiting for any show of life. I doubted, “Perhaps I did something wrong when I planted it”, “ Is it going to grow?”. After a week or so, I poked around hoping to see signs of life. Nothing. A couple of weeks later, to my surprise a little green shoot appeared all by itself. I looked at that dark pot of soil in wonder, how… had such a beautiful green thing appeared from a brown pile of dirt. I’m sure a scientist could explain it all to me in great detail, however it would do nothing to tarnish the sense of wonder I felt.
Nature had displayed to me in all her glory, how things take time, that there are processes at work that are invisible to the eye. That I could trust in the dark, in the unknown, and that something would, after time grow? It’s a big ask… this trusting in what can’t be seen or known in this moment. It’s a challenge in the minds and hearts of mindfulness course participants as they begin the course, and enter into the practice. How on earth will lying or sitting for forty-five minutes a day help me to get to grips with my mind, my body, my life. And yet, after eight years of teaching this course and twenty-three years of my own practice, I see, my participants see, that mindfulness practice does help. That this somewhat mysterious, counter-cultural practice of slowing down, paying attention and taking time off from being ‘productive’ supports well-being and improves quality of life.
The attitudinal foundations of patience, trust and non-striving are instrumental in all this. Non-striving because we have to let go of the impatience associated with trying to get somewhere in particular, of trying to control life, to know what will happen next. There is a fearlessness in this, facing up to the fact that we don’t know what will happen next, an honesty. Patience, supports us in giving things time, in Rilke’s words:
One needs to let things have
their own, silent, undisturbed development
which comes deep from within
and that cannot be pushed or speeded up
We give ourselves the gift of time, to learn something new, to allow a job, relationship, plant to flower. There is wisdom in this, an understanding of the natural order of things. And trust, Mary Oliver speaks to this beautifully in her poem, Little Summer Poem Touching the Subject of Faith, it’s such a beauty, I include the whole poem.
I listen and look
under the sun’s brass and even
into the moonlight, but I can’t hear
anything, I can’t see anything —
not the pale roots digging down, nor the green
stalks muscling up,
nor the leaves
deepening their damp pleats,
nor the tassels making,
nor the shucks, nor the cobs.
the leafy fields
grow taller and thicker —
green gowns lofting up in the night,
showered with silk.
And so, every summer,
I fail as a witness, seeing nothing —
I am deaf too
to the tick of the leaves,
the tapping of downwardness from the banyan feet —
all of it
beyond any seeable proof, or hearable hum.
And, therefore, let the immeasurable come.
Let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine.
Let the wind turn in the trees,
and the mystery hidden in the dirt
swing through the air.
How could I look at anything in this world
and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart?
What should I fear?
in the leafy green ocean
the honeycomb of the corn’s beautiful body
is sure to be there.