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Jul 18
Dharma Teachings
Waiting. Acting.

Exploring the mysteries and life lessons of knowing when to act, and when to wait

by Susan Firer

I’m waiting for something to arise in my mind to propel this piece of writing forward…waiting. Maybe that’s it: “waiting!” How often we think that we don’t have the time to wait, or the time to slow down and take it easy, to relax into the space before we act on something else? I know I think this way quite a bit.

There is a saying, not sure the author of it, goes like this: “The phenomenal world gives you what you need.”  This statement is a reminder for me. It pops into my head quite often, and it helps me settle into myself and my surroundings more fully.

I took the time to look up “phenomenal”: perceptible through the senses or through immediate experience. When I am caught up in speed or my “thinking mind,” I do not feel and connect very well with what is going on around me. Therefore, I make decisions based on a limited amount of information. I limit myself to a more narrow focus and do not include the whole of space to gather more wisdom. I think it is fair to say that a lot of us do this – we act more quickly than necessary a lot of the time.  It is only after we’ve completed something that we think, “Oh, I could have/should have done it like this!”

There are big picture and small picture applications to allowing some “wait time” throughout our lives. A quick one that pops into my mind is the old saying “Count to 10.” This is a form of waiting. I think another application is about getting three estimates before choosing a contractor to do a job for you. It takes more time and allows us to gather more information before we act. I was just waiting for some other examples to arise ;). Cats are another example – those of you who have cats can relate to this for sure. My cat used to stay in one place for long periods of time just watching the birds before she would pounce! (Happily, she wasn’t that great of a hunter so the birds could get away.) Farming is another great example of learning to wait and watch. There are many, many benefits to taking our time before we jump into the next thing. If you drink alcohol it is quite important to wait between drink, to let your body and mind feel the effects before going ahead and having another one.

On the flip side of waiting is action: no time like the present, first thought best thought, going beyond hesitation. Action is equally valid. We have options to move and act, or to be still and wait. This is a constant in our lives: should I do it or should I wait?  Good luck to all of us, right?!

There are tools, if you will, to help us know when to choose action or waiting. We can look to whatever spiritual path we are on to see what is written about this, we can sit quietly and contemplate our current situation, we can go for a walk in the woods and stop thinking, we can learn to meditate, we can talk to a friend. Many ways are available to help us become more confident and more present.

Susan Firer is a co-founder of Windhorse Retreat Center. This piece originally appeared on the Center’s blog page, at https://windhorse.shambhala.org/blog .

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