July 1995, Volume 2 Nr 11, Issue 23
Summer is a busy time. School comes to an end. There are final exams, the last day of classes, graduation. This year I particularly noticed that my students were on edge. Anticipating a miraculous event about to happen, their focus is off. Their concentration is poor. Something is on their mind. It is not that they know the end of the school year is coming, but rather that they are impatiently waiting for the last day to arrive. Even the teachers are in an altered state. Over coffee in the morning, I ask a colleague, "How are you?" He replies, "I'll be better in a couple of days."
During the middle of the summer, I'll run into students and colleagues. More often than not, some will say, "I can't wait for school to begin. I'm ready to go back." Some look with anticipation for summer vacation to end so they can send their own children back to school and return to a more established daily routine.
It appears we are constantly waiting for something, even though we are not always certain what we are waiting for or what is to follow. We wait for Christmas, our birthday, a driver's license, the prom, our eighteenth birthday, the arrival of the new car, the acceptance of a mortgage, payday, a promotion, a raise, stock dividends, a vacation, a movie, a bonus, the end of military service, the start of a new job, the arrival of a baby, surgery, release from the hospital, the builders, the plumber, the mail, etc., ad infinitum. It is not that we are in a hurry, but rather, that we are quickly going nowhere. We are caught in the anticipated contentment promised by the future and perpetually awaiting the future to happen.Short Timer
My short-lived Navy career taught me how to wait. The running joke during my two-years on active duty was, "Hurry up and wait." When I arrived in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, I quickly discovered that most of the enlisted men were counting the days they had left before they got out. This waiting for was so pervasive, so intense and so quickly established that hundred-day calendars were drawn up, distributed and placed on the locker door next to a sailor's bunk within days of one's arrival. This short-timer's calendar is a grid of squares. As each day passed a square was colored in until one square was left: the day one left "the rock."
Upon discharge, we went home and promptly began waiting in the unemployment line, the grocery store checkout line, the bus or train stop, the waiter or waitress, the check at a restaurant, and so on.
There is however, an inherent, and what should be obvious, question associated with all our waiting for which goes beyond: what are we waiting for. Instead, we might consider: why we are so mired in waiting for something? It is not the time span between the present moment and the event that affects us so. Rather, it is the obsessing over the event itself and our impatience that causes us consternation. Waiting for is a synonym for not wanting to be here now. It is an imaginary leap, albeit at times a painful one, into a projection that would falsely have us believe that we are in control of the universe.The Roots of Waiting
We live in a society that is dominated by the Judeo-Christian ethic. We have a long history of using time as a measurement between anticipated events. For example, the Christian view holds the belief that our reward for living a good life will happen in the future after the death of the body. In Catholicism, we look forward to the day when we can be in the midst of the beatific vision. And, if we are not so fortunate, we may spend our time in a much hotter place, presumably with no possibility of waiting to get out.
I remember as a youngster in Catholic grammar school, the theory behind purgatory, a place where we atone for our small or venial sins waiting to get into God's company. Our time waiting for could be shortened by the intercession of prayer by our loved ones and friends. We await appropriate purging before moving on to our just reward. The upshot of all this training in waiting for is internalizing the belief that we can not have bliss or meaningful happiness now, that somehow suffering and pain in this world are a necessary precursor to what comes next, sometime in the future, in the afterlife.
In Judaism, we await the coming of the Messiah and our salvation. The waiting has been going on for thousands of years. We are at odds with the present moment because that which we seek, salvation now, perfect peace, total happiness is an external myth we place our faith in. "Man's adaptation to the world is largely governed by the development of the imagination and hence of an inner world of the psyche which is necessarily at variance with the external world. Perfect happiness, the oceanic feeling of complete harmony between inner and outer worlds, is only transiently possible. Man is constantly in search of happiness but, by his very nature, is precluded from finally or permanently achieving it..."
As a consequence, we convince ourselves that life is suffering and happiness now is unattainable. We force ourselves to accept the self determined illusion that we can expect no better in this life. In Constructing the Universe, David Layzer, discussing Einstein's theory of gravitation writes, "The structure of space-time determines its contents no less than its contents determine its structure. Structure and content are interdependent and inseparable aspects of a single physical reality: space-time-energy." From this physics of space-time we draw the analogy which states that the structure of our thinking about our life determines what our life is as much as what our life is determines the structure of our thinking. Our frame of mind and what we experience are thus in part, interdependent and inseparable aspects of our waiting-for energy which is part of our spiritual reality.
Waiting for energy is balanced by patience. We set aside the anxiety of hoping things happen soon or quickly by letting go the tension, by restructuring our thinking with the secure knowledge that the anticipated will happen soon enough. In a new translation of I Ching, Kerson and Rosemary Huang comment on the hexagram waiting composed of the two trigrams: water over heaven. They comment that "the Oracle teaches us to be patient. What is now yields inevitably to what will be; things are passing, and nothing is unchanging. Perception of the flow of Yin and Yang enables us to wait without anxiety. Free from hope or expectation, doubt, confusion, and frustration, we can await the coming of both good fortune and peril with equanimity. Courage comes from inner security and is expressed in resolute action and perseverance. Preparation of the body and mind during a period of waiting allows us to face the most terrifying events with cool, deliberate resolve." The idea of Yin and Yang is that of change, of one thing flowing into another and the other flowing back into the first.
The Huangs further state that "some of the most profound and healing psychological experiences which individuals encounter take place internally..." In Metaphoria, the idea that the I is where experience begins creating the conditions for the next appearance, has been a recurring thread since the first issue two years ago. Ken Keyes, in his Handbook to Higher Consciousness, succinctly and quite effectively offers steps to stop waiting for and start being here now. Steps four through six of the twelve pathways state:
I always remember that I have everything I need to enjoy my here and now - unless I am letting my consciousness be dominated by demands and expectations based upon the dead past or the imagined future.
I take full responsibility here and now for everything I experience, for it is my own programming that creates my actions and also influences the reactions of people around me.
I accept myself completely here and now and consciously experience everything I feel, think, say, and do (including my emotion-backed addictions) as a necessary part of my growth into higher consciousness.Gratitude
When we are stuck waiting for, we might remember to think, "How soon will you realize that the only thing you don't have is the direct experience that there's nothing you need that you don't have?" How wonderful those two years at Guantanamo Bay might have been if, at the time, I had realized that I had everything I needed? That was twenty-five years ago! There was incredible snorkeling in the beautiful, unspoiled Guantanamo River. There was a large iguana (which we named Iggie) at the secluded, off-limits beach. After a few days bringing oranges, he greeted us like a puppy dog expecting us to give him the usual treat. The fresh pomegranates, coconuts, mangos, and prickly pears were outside my window for the taking. My mindset however, was caught up in a torrent of waiting for energy that religiously and foolishly had me coloring each passing day on the short-timers calendar, anticipating something better to happen just one day less into the future. The best was right in front of my nose.
Waiting for is the antithesis of being grateful. Just as fear and love are opposites of each other, anxious waiting is the opposite of gratitude. Fear is the absence of love in the same manner that waiting for is the absence of thankfulness. Love is how I walk in gratitude. Waiting for is how I walk in self-indulgence and selfishness. Instead of counting days before I went home, I could have watched wondrous sunsets. Rather than wait impatiently for a mortgage closing, we can be grateful that we are in a position where we can afford to buy a home.
Our society does not foster patience, compassion, volunteerism and gratitude. The TV programs and the movies that we watch aspire to the ideals of a quick fix. From microwaved TV dinners to pills that are hyped to quickly eliminate just about any condition the human body develops, instant relief is sold in a bottle. The quick spot remover, carpet cleaner, dish washer, thirst quencher, etc. all appeal to our anxiety over not feeling good enough, not having enough, etc. We wait for when we feel better, have a shiny car, clean laundry, a cold brew and so on. Even more sadly, our films have a tendency to solve differences with a quick call to violence. In a nation where so many people are waiting so long for everything that they do not have, it is easy to sell just about anything that offers little or no waiting. But, this is mindless existence. Advertisers count on this state of mind to sell their products. They know (and encourage) viewers to always be waiting for something. This way they can offer a fast (but temporary) solution.Phantom Cargo
Cargo cults developed in the Pacific Islands. These cults are found in cultures where the people are exposed to explorers or others with more sophisticated technology or transportation bearing goods and possibly weapons. They see the visitors as ancestral saviors from the past. No amount of explanation will convince them otherwise.
In Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches, The Riddles of Culture, the anthropologist Marvin Harris writes about phantom cargo. He relates the story of the indigenous people of New Guinea building bamboo radio towers, wooden airplanes, airstrips, using tin cans for microphones calling for the return of their ancestors. The people are waiting for dead ancestors returned to life to improve their lot. "The natives are waiting for a total upgrading of their lives. The phantom ships and planes will bring the beginning of a whole new epoch. The dead and living will be reunited, the white man thrown out or subordinated, drudgery abolished; there will be no shortages of anything...Our own traditions prepare us for salvation, resurrection, immortality - but with airplanes, cars, and radios? No phantom ships for us. We know where such things come from. Or do we?"
How similar we today are to these native people. Our phantom cargo arrives through purchase and acquisition. Our lot improves with the purchase of the new car that is delivered by the voluptuous and sexy model. Our full load of party ancestors clad in bikinis and skimpy swim trunks arrives with the Silver Bullet complete with white sandy beach. Just like the natives, we too are waiting for.Messianism
Marvin makes a compelling case for linking messianism with phantom cargo phenomena. Waiting for the messiah is similar to waiting for cargo. Both put the reward later and prevent us from the serenity of the moment that is available to us each and every moment. This is, I believe, why A Course in Miracles and many books written about it or based on it have touched so many people. In its somewhat verbose way, A Course in Miracles gets across the message that a mere shift in perception is all that is required for the miracle to happen. Our anxiety fades away.
Waiting for can be seen as another ego defense. The misconception that we are not good enough, nor have enough, places us into fear, preventing us from being loving.Gnosis
In response to messianism, and in collaboration with A Course in Miracles (and other writings including modern psychotherapy), the Gospel of Thomas says, "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you." Thomas is referring to being conscious, aware and knowing oneself. Elaine Pagels in The Gnostic Gospels refers to pursuing gnosis (to know) as engaging "each person in a solitary, difficult process, as one struggles against internal resistance. They (the Gnostics) characterized this resistance to gnosis as the desire to sleep or to be drunk - that is, to remain unconscious." The resistance to letting go of waiting for is the ego in action.
Alice Caldwell Rice says, "Life is made up of desires that seem big and vital one minute, and little and absurd the next. I guess we get what's best for us in the end." Rather than waiting for with anxiety, we might try being grateful that we have many unmet desires since, "Wants, ultimately not for our own good, can open the way to many unneeded and painful experiences." Exchanging the anxiety for gratitude spares us much unnecessary unpleasantry. What is going on right now in our life is the step toward what happens next. Surely, gratitude instead of anxiety sets up a better foundation for what comes next. Rather than waiting for phantom cargo, we see that we have cargo enough.
"Stop striving after all kinds of things; stop dreaming, scheming, planning, working, achieving, attempting, moving, manipulating, trying to get somewhere. You forget, the simplest most obvious thing, which is to be here...If we are not here, we exist only on the fringes of reality. We don't sufficiently value simply being. Instead we value what we want to accomplish, or what we want to possess. It is our 'biggest mistake.' "
When we are in the present, we are not waiting for. When we are offering service, we are in the present. This is gratitude.Service as Gratitude
When we bring forth what is in us, we stop waiting. Our gratitude can be expressed as service. Baba Ram Dass writes, "This is the vision spiritual tradition offers: service as a journey of awakening. The value of such a perspective on our work is not so much that it leads to exalted states and indescribable experiences. It is enough that it can help keep me straight."
The folk music group, Bright Morning Star, in one of my favorite folk songs written by Charlie King, sing, Our life is more than our work and our work is more than our job." Our work is to get out of the ego-conditioned rationale of, "What's in it for me?" and, replace it with, "How can I Help?"
Baba Ram Dass and Paul Gorman in How Can I Help, write, "In the incredible power of what seems such a simple act, we are reminded of what a precious gift we have received and can pass on what can be welcomed with such gratitude and wonder, is a glimpse of our common divinity revealed in an ordinary act of kindness which any one of us can perform.
"Helping out is not some special skill. It is not confined to a single part or time of our lives. We simply heed the call of that natural caring impulse within and follow where it leads us."
Service need not be formal. The mere willingness to be helpful opens a world of possibilities. We may open the door for someone. We may share a talent with someone less skillful. We might change a tire for someone, teach someone to read, read a story to another, fix a bicycle, give someone the time of day, bake bread and give a few loaves away, etc.
Activism is also a form of service. To give of ourselves for a higher cause is another way of offering thanks. We might begin or work in a food cupboard or pantry or a homeless shelter. We may organize to foster peace and social justice. We could deliver meals on wheels, and so on. There is no end to the opportunity for doing service.Closing
I began this issue of Metaphoria with the story about my students and teaching colleagues waiting for the end of school. A few years ago, I decided that I would no longer do that. I began to reprogram my thinking by not looking forward to weekends, holidays, vacations, paychecks, etc. I did this by letting the thoughts and images of these future events simply pass quickly through my consciousness.
When a student or colleague engaged me in a conversation and expressed the desire for vacation to be here I responded with, "If vacations were fun, I would not be having this conversation and your good company. It's nice to be talking with you."
After a few weeks this thinking became automatic. It became so automatic and successful that payday came surprising me with a paycheck in my mailbox. Holidays came and went quietly. The school year was great. The same happens with Metaphoria. I do not wait for the next topic to happen. The ideas for the newsletter have a way of choosing themselves.
There is a great sense of relief when we let go of waiting for. We are at ease with ourself and the universe. Each moment then becomes a gracious step on the journey which is its own reward.Quotations
Man's desires are like the small metal coins he carries in his pocket. The more he has the more they weigh him down.
Five senses; an incredibly abstract intellect; a haphazardly selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them - never even become conscious of them at all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through.
The present moment is a powerful goddess.
I am on the present. I cannot know what tomorrow will bring forth. I can only know what the truth is for me today. That is why I am called upon to serve, and I serve it in all lucidity.
We cannot put off living until we are ready. The most salient characteristic of life is its coerciveness: it is always urgent, "here and now" without any possible postponement. Life is fired at us point-blank.
There is no cure for birth and death, save to enjoy the interval.
We are here and it is now. Further than that all human knowledge is moonshine.
My dog doesn't worry about the meaning of life. She may worry if she doesn't get her breakfast, but she doesn't sit around worrying about whether she will get fulfilled or liberated or enlightened.
You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting right at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet. Kafka
If you have a glass of good wine in front of you, you can describe its color and smell its aroma. Being here and now is drinking it.
© 1995 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski