The Art of Waiting: Finding Meaning in the Meantime.
Waiting is always difficult.
I can’t imagine that there has ever been a time when humans enjoyed waiting. Perhaps there was a time when we had a much greater capacity to wait, but that doesn’t mean that waiting was ever a positive pleasure.
“You know what I like best? To wait,” said no human ever.
Waiting entails waiting for something. And it is the something that we’re after. Or maybe it’s something that we’re trying to avoid. The something could be something horrible, but waiting for something horrible to happen doesn’t make waiting any better.
The problem, or reality, is that life requires a lot of waiting. Like a lot, a lot.
We can go back to the very basics of life, like food and reproduction.
Agriculture is mostly waiting. You turn the soil, plant the seeds, and water, or wait for rain to fall from the sky, and you keep the pests — weed, insects, or animals — away. Then, you harvest when the plant grows to maturity. The harvest is the goal. But between planting and harvesting, no matter how much activity is happening and helping in the meantime, you are waiting.
Something has started, but is not yet complete.
The same goes for the birds and the bees.
Between conception and birth, something is happening behind the scenes, cells are splitting, bones are solidifying, organs are growing, nerves are sparking — but however much the mother is tending to herself and her body, the process happening within her happens over time.
The only instant plants and children are plastic. Anything that requires growth, requires waiting.
This principle applies especially to the soul. Inner transformation, development, growth, integration, consciousness, and creativity take time. In fact, it is difficult, if not impossible, to see where any of these processes even actually come to an end — other than death.
And for every culture and society prior to our own, death wasn’t even considered an endpoint. It was thought of more like Winter, a season with an ongoing cycle of degeneration and regeneration.
There are plenty of spiritual traditions that found in death a test and a trial of waiting, like waiting for Spring — waiting for the decay and dissolution of death to complete its work and finally clear the way for new life and development.
In some ways, we are always in a state of in-between, constantly moving from beginnings to endings to beginnings. Even when we are most active, our actions are taking us toward something that is not yet, that we have to wait for our activities to reach or complete.
So, how do we work with waiting? What do we do with it?
Attempting to avoid it only means that we will stunt or stop our own development.
How do we live with it, or maybe even serve it, like waiting on waiting?
After all, nothing seems to happen without it. Stars would have never formed, life would have never evolved, communities would have never developed, or culture ever emerged, nor would have art ever been created without waiting for atoms and molecules to congregate, for DNA to stack and spiral, for thoughts to form, for language to sound out, for clay to harden, for colors to mix, and paint to dry.
I know, I know, humans weren’t around to wait for most of this to happen. Nevertheless, it all took time — a long, long time. That’s just the inherent nature of things it seems, maybe the nature of God?
“For the sake of alchemy,” God said.
Okay, I made that up.
But I blaspheme for a sacred purpose.
Perhaps more than any other practitioners of ancient arts, the alchemists intensely deliberated and deliberately participated in waiting as an integral element of the sacred art of transformation.
Alchemists were devoted to discovering the inner, divine nature of things, because they wanted to participate in the way nature works. They thought of nature as the epitome of an alchemical artist. If nature can draw a seed to split and sprout and flower, they wanted to learn how they could cultivate themselves, germinate, and grow to completion.
While they were working in their laboratories with metals and acids and minerals, they were searching for nature’s patterns, so they could trace those same patterns within. Without and within were seen as expressions of the same norm.
Alchemists considered humans as inseparable from nature’s art, and so they thought there might be an art to developing nature in human form — one that involves reflection, contemplation, and imagination, since these kinds of consciousness seem essential to the completion of nature’s painting of the human soul.
Alchemy is not chemistry, in which the outcome of a chemical operation is independent of the inner dispositions of the person doing the work. In alchemy, the kind of person we are within, the content of our consciousness, either corrupts or improves the outcome.
For the human work of art, for the human as a work of art, nature requires the contribution of our consciousness to complete the picture. What we contribute from within — the quality of what we think, and feel, and imagine — is inextricable from what we become as a whole.
Waiting is the canvas of consciousness — of reflection, contemplation, and imagination.
When we’re waiting, our consciousness is working, contemplating, painting within, soul-making — mixing into our life the hues and tones of our moods and attitudes. We’re covering our insides with brushstrokes of hope or despair. We’re sketching the unknown with dark apprehension, or coloring it with anticipation.
Waiting forces us into our own inner gallery, into a viewing of the styles, qualities, and contents of our own consciousness. That is why we so often try to avoid waiting, because facing the mosaic of our own minds can be disturbing, and depressing. It’s difficult to look directly at our anxieties, insecurities, abandoned callings, and betrayed ideals.
It seems that our movements on the outside keeps our insides away from awareness. As soon as we stop moving outwardly, we start moving within — as if there is some inverse relationship between inner and outer movement.
That’s probably why we get caught in compulsive outward doings, because if we stop outside, we step inside ourselves.
Who tagged these waiting walls with this shitty graffiti? Who left these empty cans of resentment, and pissed fear all over the place?
The art of waiting doesn’t have to be good art. It might not even qualify as art if all we do is let our inner demons color our consciousness.
But we cannot avoid waiting, if we’re conscious.
And we cannot avoid consciousness, if we’re waiting.
And maybe that’s the meaning in the meantime, of the meantime, the point to waiting: to make us conscious, and to give us the opportunity to become conscious better.
Life imposes pauses on our outward activity, so that we have to see what else is going on, even if we don’t like it.
Sometimes the only pause is when we fall asleep. Even then our consciousness will confront us.
Outward life is only half of life. We need to be well within to be whole.
If the substance of our souls is suspect, low-grade, inferior, then the compound of our whole life could break down. Our outer successes and accomplishments will not have the soul to solidify them as lasting and continuing expressions of states of inner achievement. They’ll fall through the cracks of our broken souls, or be the outside forces that fracture us within, so that they’ll only stand, tilted, as monuments of our own ruin.
If we want our lives to work, they have to work as a whole. And to work as a whole, we have to wait. We have to wait well, we have to wait attentively on our souls.
Our souls show when we’re waiting, and what they show depends on what we make of our souls in the meantime — how we respond to life within — what we reflect on, connect with, question, contemplate, imagine, feel, love, hate.
Soul-making is an art, the alchemical art of waiting.
Dylan Hoffman, PhD, is a student — of life, of imagination, of soul. His apprenticeship to Soul is the essence of his own work as a writer and teacher. Dylan has founded the Spiritual Alchemy Institute to provide clients with instruction and guidance in the dynamics and development of the soul as it is symbolized, imagined, and practiced in the tradition of alchemy. Alchemy is called The Art by its devotees. It provides methods of meditation, processes of transformation, and images of the inner states and conditions that we must undergo to achieve wholeness — to integrate all the elements of our lives into a rich and unified soul. For Dylan, alchemy is where soul, life, and art become one, and make spiritual gold, create wholeness.