What I once thought I knew about patience was nothing compared to what I learned in the experience of total defeat brought about by a prolonged illness.
The peculiar nature of my disease seemed custom-designed for the teaching of patience, for I had to spend long periods of time in considerable pain and exhaustion, barely functioning, without noticeably improving or getting any worse.
For the greater part of three years I lived in a chaotic and disheartening limbo, unable to prepare for the return of health but certain that I was not facing death either. Improvements and relapses occurred in such nonsensical patterns that I could never be sure of whether my medicines, attitude adjustments, and hard-bargained life changes were helping me or not.
Until I became ill, I had always missed the presence of a single great teacher in my life, someone whose power and wisdom would be so great and obvious that I could openly submit myself to that teacher’s will. My devotional drive had always been effectively countered by a sharp eye for human frailties; I was not about to be taken in by some crackpot guru. So life sent me a great but invisible teacher who would prove more cruel, irrational, and ultimately instructive than any guru I had ever heard of.
This crackpot guru lived in my own veins and tissues, and I unwittingly invited him in with my bitterness and faithlessness. Once inside me, he would not be dislodged by mere plaints, prayers, or pills.
So I learned to wait—through storms and tortures, through bedridden boredom and wild lonesomeness, past all reason or sensible expectations. I learned to wait on nothing because everything seemed lost. And then, as I fitfully began to recover, miraculous things happened that I could never have imagined, that certainly weren’t on any of my old schedules, and that would direct my life on a new and unexpected path.
When you learn to wait patiently on nothing, your inner teacher can begin to arrange your real life, working noiselessly and invisibly behind the screen of apparent reality, deftly moving people, signs, and circumstances into open view at just the right time for you to recognize them as accelerators of your new and yet ancient purpose.
No doubt there are easier ways to learn this kind of mystical, transformative waiting than being taught patience by defeat. Defeat just happened to be my teacher…a better and more exhaustive teacher than I could have sought out consciously.
So I know what happens when Godot arrives. He brings an end to aimlessness, and he brooks no compromise.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: D. Patrick Miller
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: by Alice Popkorn at Flickr