by | Feb 2, 2020 | 2 comments

“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope,
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing.”
T.S. Eliot, ‘Four Quarters’

Since returning from another month in Colorado, I’ve done a fair bit of reading. One book that has held my attention through this span is ‘Birds Art Life’ by Kyo Maclear. Among several other things, this work acknowledges, embraces, and with appropriate discretion celebrates the lulls in our lives. The book gives quiet praise to the inevitable and all too often overlooked waitings that perforate our days.

Winter Meditation Intensive was done when I started into its pages. My work with Dharma Ocean was complete. Finally, I had an opportunity to realize what I’d been longing for through the past several months. Finally, there was an opportunity to pause and Maclear’s book seemed confirmation of this. More, it’s arrival seemed to offer encouragement and, in certain moments, insistence in this direction. Don’t move too quickly. Don’t act too impulsively. Quite simply, don’t. And in the absence of all usual activity, wait.

This is not a typical mode of being for myself. Were I to risk the generalization, I would suggest it’s not typical for anyone in these modern times. More familiar is hurry and rush, movement and what convention describes as progress. More familiar is doing. Within this harried context, waiting or taking pause often struggles to find a meaningful toehold.

Which is not to say it does not happen from time to time.

I recall, for instance, an interview with the Kentucky-based musician Joan Shelley. In this, she acknowledges the value of waiting in her work. Each day when she’s home, it seems, Shelley will wander down to a nearby river. Here she rests on a particular rock and waits. She waits for the whisper of song, of course. I would guess, however, that there is more to the ritual than this.

Maybe she waits for insight on that rock. Sitting beside that river, she might wait for inspiration: what to make for dinner; where to walk next Sunday afternoon; which old friend to reach out to, reconnect with. Maybe she waits for a moment of calm or for the morning breeze to shift. Maybe she waits for daylight to peak over tree tops and warm one side of her face.

Maybe Shelley sometimes waits with no more conscious intent than this. Maybe she lingers on that rock by that river that winds it’s way somewhere near Louisville, Kentucky and waits until the waiting is finally done.

– Neil


  1. Thank you, Neil. I’m reading your article with some grief in my life right now. And I realize that there is a pressure I feel to "do", even with the grief. To get through it, to figure it out, to work, work, work. So the concept that waiting and not doing are also possible… even to actively wait… to practice it… brings solace.

    • Reading your words, Mandy, I am reminded of Joan Didion’s ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’. Written during a period of intense personal grief, I recall her speaking of the pressure she felt to get over it, to move on. To return to more typical doing, I suppose. And yet grief, of all human experiences, seems to require something quite different.


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