This is my friend who taught me to think. He did not teach me how to think. He simply taught me to think. He taught me the importance of waiting. He waited a lot. He is a novice in a monastery in Chiang Mai and he sat in this position , and in this spot much of the day when we were friends. I taught him English and he taught me to sit and wait.
His temple was on the path of my morning walk. I would stop in for my prayers -praying to my Christian God in a Buddhist temple seemed a bit refreshing. But then, when I was done, I would get up and be off on my adventures in pottery shops and dumpling restaurants and paper stores. Once I had a new tea bowl, some dumplings in my belly and some good paper for letters, I went home, wrote and napped and did it all again.
One day he asked me why I was rushing around so much when I was meant to be on an extended rest. I said that I had many things to accomplish. He smiled and looked at the carpet. I hated when he did that. It always meant he could see something that I needed to see and could not and that he was deciding if I could bear the truth. Spiritual directors come in many forms.
I sat in silence. An hour passed and neither of us moved. I finally asked him if he “had found a pebble in my shoe” – code for something which made me limp in life – something which needed to be removed in order to be able not to limp but rather to run. He smiled and looked at the carpet. I hated when he did that. Good spiritual directors are so annoying. Bad ones are easy to live with – they just compliment you, you pay them and the transaction is nice for all. But a good spiritual director is a worrier and midwife with a gentle hand and a sharp sword. And they are few in number.
He said “If you want to learn how to wait and listen to yourself, I will sit with you while you learn it. If not, you should run your errands.” There was some silence. I felt my feelings hurt. Then he added “But as you run your many errands, you will be running from dragons which will always get to your resting places first – they will wait for you. So why not wait for them and have a conversation together.”
I am still learning to wait and to listen. Yesterday I stayed home for the morning. I knew there were demons – mine and those of others – who were lined up to have a chat with me. They were waiting. So I made a good cup of coffee with real cream and lavender honey and we chatted for a few hours. And then I knew things I needed to know. I let go of things I needed to let go of. I embraced things I needed to embrace. Life came into focus a bit more than usual.
Waiting and listening – to God and to our own heart in mindfulness, is an act of defiance to a culture of anesthesia and mindlessness. It is the warmth of a midwife’s wet towel and it is the release of a worrier’s sharp sword.