pilgrimage, Presence, Uncategorized

Waiting and Transformation

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WAITING
Anna Citrino

The heat rises each day in Delhi now, and the trees
on my street have lost their leaves. The branches,

gone barren, crave a new life. They hold open the palms
of their hands in yearning. Hour after hour, the sun

kisses their fingertips saying, “Not yet, keep going.
Keep on,” as the trees breathe in the circling birds,

and breathe out their emptiness. They want to blow
open in sirens of life, to scream like a child in wild glee,

want to turn on the colored search lights, to shout out
the story of a yellow Eden. They want to sing

in a ten thousand blossomed glory, setting fire
to the air. But they don’t.

They wait. Day by day, a pyre of sticks, they stand
quietly shriveling into the sidewalk, as if

they understand the silence, the humility,
out of which life finally speaks.

Landscapes can embody both longing and renewal. When I lived in New Delhi, a tree grew along the roadside in front of the school and in the courtyard inside the front gate. As the year moved toward spring, I noticed the trees beginning to lose all their leaves, just as it seemed to me that they should be bursting with life. I thought the trees were dying, and felt very sad to see them go–all of them alongside the roadway drooping and bereft of leaves.

The trees were not dying, however, though they appeared to be. They were actually getting ready to burst forth in blossom. By May the trees, the cassia fistula, had become enormous clouds of brilliant yellow clusters of flowers cascading down from the height of their branches. Their vibrant color embodied New Delhi’s intense May heat where temperatures climb over a hundred Fahrenheit (in the thirties in Celsius) accompanied with May’s monsoon season humidity. Like drifts of yellow sun, their blossoms fell in thick drifts along the roadside. It felt like the trees had to lose all their leaves in order to make way for the myriad blooms.

Some people liked to call these trees the graduation trees as their blossoms arrived at about the same time as the school year’s end. People would leave school to ride out into their summer holidays and their new or their other lives, accompanied by the generous beauty of these trees celebrating their long awaited for transformation. I learned from these trees behavior that what is true in one environment doesn’t always hold true for another, and that sometimes things that appear to be dying might actually be making ready for something entirely new to occur, even, perhaps, something glorious.

 

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It’s a fortunate coincidence that the tree blossoms at the school year’s end, a time when tired teachers are very much in need of a boost to carry them into a time of rejuvenation and restoration before beginning a new school year.  It isn’t only teachers that need renewal, however. Many people carry on through years of work holding up their families, nurturing other people’s health or hold the safety and wellbeing of others in their care, and must find how to sustain themselves and others through long periods of time. Whether its for graduation, a job, retirement, better health, a word of encouragement or a hand of support, we are often awaiting renewal like the trees, preparing and storing up reserves for the arrival of that transformative time.

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Often, when we put closure to certain phases of our lives, people like to know what we’re going to do next. We don’t have to know everything about our future though as we move toward change. We each have our our own way of opening and can allow ourselves to learn how to unfold in our own time. Success and the continual idea that we must be doing something so we can be called successful or call ourselves successful can make us deeply unsettled, and can prevent us from living satisfying lives. To wait on ourselves, and to listen deeply to the rhythms and needs of our lives is important to living meaningfully and with contentment. Before bursting forth into blossom, nature practices stillness, goes into her dark place and can look as if she’s dying. Like the cassia fistula, we can hold back, listening to our inner selves.

Several years back now, the first blog post I wrote on this site spoke about the mandorla, the ancient symbol that can be found in cathedrals’ stained glass where two circles or ovals overlap. The overlapping portion symbolically represents that area where wholeness develops, and growing into oneness occurs. As Robert A. Johnson explains in his book, Owning Your Own Shadow, the Dark Side of the Psyche, “The message is unmistakable; our own healing proceeds from that overlap of what we call good and evil, light and dark. It is not that the light element alone does the healing; the place where light and dark begin to touch is where miracles arise. This middle place is a mandorla, ” The shadow times, times we’re seemingly dying but are still living, the times where all is still and it seems nothing at all is happening as we wander and explore, aiming to understand experiences, feelings or ideas are important to our inner growth and wellbeing. “Only awareness of your shadow qualities can help you to find an appropriate place for your unredeemed darkness and thereby create a more satisfying experience. To not do this work is to remain trapped in the loneliness, anxiety, and dualistic limits of the ego instead of awakening to your higher calling,” writes Johnson, explaining how important times of emptiness are for our inner lives to grow.

We live inside a mandorla–a world where opposites overlap. Whether change occurs slowly or quickly, our lives are always in transition, moving from one world into another. The stillness and space between the oppositions in our lives is where we learn how to transform our lives and periodically allow ourselves to eventually burst into blossom. While we search for the boat of insight that will carry us to the other side of understanding, we can practice being still and enjoying the moment we’re in.

 

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Uncategorized

The Value of Waiting

“Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Outside of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, during the month of February wild iris grow in ribbons of purple across the desert in an area called Tumair. They open between 1:00 and 2:00 in the afternoon. Not before. You can light a flame near them, shine bright lights near them, but they don’t open before it’s their time. There are things you can control, and things you can’t. It’s good to know the difference. From nature we learn that all things have a natural timing. Seasons are cyclical. Most of us find it difficult to wait for things we long for. We don’t like waiting for a web site to load up on the computer, we don’t like waiting in lines or in traffic. We eat on the run. Making things go fast is important to so many so much of the time but learning to wait is also both important and undervalued.

Before Christmas this year, I woke early, the room still full of darkness, and I remember how when I was a child I would wake several times in the night, wondering if it was Christmas morning yet. Though we don’t have a Christmas tree in our house, as a child, I loved lying under the tree in the evenings when the colored lights were on. I would peer up through the branches with the tensile and decorations and imagining the thoughts of the tree when it lived in the forest, and then the thoughts it had as it stood in our living room. One of the best parts of Christmas, though, was waiting for Christmas day to arrive. At our house, we put the packages under the tree ahead of time. As we sat around the Christmas tree in the evenings, we could see all the packages, but we knew we couldn’t open them. We had to wait. When I think of it now, perhaps one of the things that made Christmas was so special was the waiting for it to arrive.

This year, a friend gave us a wreath. I didn’t know much about the tradition of a wreath earlier, but have been reading and learning more about them and how they are connected to the season of advent in the Christian church, as well as that of pre-Christian traditions to represent the cycle of seasons and of life’s presence in the midst of winter. This wisdom is a helpful one to nurture and practice, as it provides a structure in which to consciously practice how to wait. Waiting is an important part of understanding something’s value. In his essay, “The End of Advent” that I recently read in The Best American Spiritual Writing, Joseph Bottum, described Christmas as a season of “anticipation run amuck, like children so sick with expectation that the reality, when at last it arrives, can never be satisfying.” Most of us want to live a life that is satisfying. Our life situations are constantly changing. We have to be flexible and be able to stick with difficult situations, how to wait them out, in order to better understand how to live happily and well. You may have heard of the marshmallow experiment at Stanford where researchers gave children a marshmallow with a choice to either have one immediately or wait longer and be able to get two. The researchers followed up with the children latter, and those who were able to resist had SAT scores that were “on average, 210 points higher than those of those who waited only 30 seconds.” That’s astonishing, and it suggests that those who can think about the choices, and those who practice learning how to wait have nurtured an important character trait that can help them in life.

Connecting the idea of impulsive behavior and the inability to wait to the world at large, we are all aware of the way our modern life has used natural resources without restraint causing widespread environmental problems such as deforestation and desertification. Perhaps our desire and systematic use of these resources without restraint or adequate consideration of the long term effect on the world or our lives are our metaphorical marshmallow. With the ecological problems we are facing today, restraint could be a very good quality to practice that over time could create a shift in consciousness that would create a healthier environment for both us and for the planet.

Genesis tells us the earth was formed in darkness. The Celts told stories in the dark half of the year. Darkness, an organic pace of growth, waiting—these are all qualities associated with creativity. Currently, I’ve been working on a series of related narrative poems about immigrants from Calabria, in southern Italy, to San Francisco during the early 1900’s. The writing has required research about the time period, culture, and the locations of both Calabria and San Francisco. It’s a challenging, engaging and new kind of writing for me, and many times I have written into a situation where I’m not sure where to go next. Many of the poems in the series are told through the point of view of a particular person, and I’ve had to push deeply into the imagination to try and grasp the meaning that might emerge from a life dealing with the particular historical problems or relationship issues a particular poem explores. Finding what will work best for the poem means being open to a variety of possibilities and trying them out. There is a spectrum of possible ways to develop an idea, and to dig into the inner core of what situations or events suggest so that they reveal a deeper meaning in the writing that is honest and true takes time. Sometimes a piece needs to sit for days, weeks, or even months before the way through to completion appears. Other times the whole form needs to be altered, or entire sections cut out. When you are creating something you care about, what matters is not the speed at which the task is accomplished, but the quality of the work. Forcing the creativity to come out usually results in ruining or breaking the work. Perseverance is essential to the creative act. You have to put in the time but the path towards the end product isn’t typically a direct line. You also need to nurture the environment that will enable the idea to emerge, and then let it surface.  Anne Morrow Lindbergh said, “The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.” Essentially, the creative act requires a kind of waiting for a gift from the sea. You do your work, practice your skill, you prepare, but you also need to hold a receptive mind, and this involves active observation, purposeful noticing, listening deeply and staying attune to what’s coming up from the questions you hold, play as well as time away from the work itself. I recall Naomi Shihab Nye’s quote on the Bill Moyer’s Language of Life series where she is talking to a group of young writers and says something about how you may be writing your poem thinking you are going to church and it takes you to the dog races instead. You have to listen to the writing, the work and tune your ear so you can learn to understand what it is telling you it needs. Even with years of practice and study, this takes time to learn.

When making a speech or delivering a monologue or a joke, we are aware of the value of the pregnant pause. Timing, waiting is important and can make the delivery of the message more powerful. Restraint, learning to wait is a practice that in time, brings fruit we benefit from both individually and collectively. Its a new year. It seems a good season for planting the seeds for that fruit.