“It is said that patience is to behave in adversity in the same way one behaves in times of well-being.” – Al-Qushayri
Patience (sabr) is a tough station to transcend for many of us. This far along the path, nearing the final couple of station, after days, months, years of self-work and spiritual preparation, many begin to lose patience when the outcomes they hoped for don’t seem to immediately follow their efforts. Many Sufis describe this phase of the spiritual journey as knocking on God’s door and hearing no answer.
“I have lived on the lip
of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door. It opens.
I’ve been knocking from the inside.”
Rumi perfectly describes here the reason why so many of us, after an arduous journey through the inner realms of the self, don’t immediately have the door to the spiritual realm opened for us. The reason is, if we stand before the door of the Divine Beloved, expecting a certain result, demanding certain reasons, awaiting something exciting that was vaguely described to us by others, then we are missing the entire point. We have been in the divine presence all along. We have been demanding entrance into a presence that we have been steeped in our entire existence. And so, patience on the spiritual path is about recognizing that we are not to await spiritual realization as if it follows logically from spiritual effort. We are to strive to remove the veils that separate us from what is already all around us and within us. And this striving comes in the form of continued meditation or prayer (whatever spiritual practice you engage in), especially in times of struggle, until the illusions of everyday life and the veils of material existence fall away by virtue of your continued practice alone.
It’s like this: If you spent a year in a dark room, and then you were invited out into the sun, the light will blind you. If you persist and stand in the sun until your eyes adjust, then you will see the beauty of the world around you. This is what the Sufis call “the falling away of all the veils.” But if you cover your eyes and run back inside into the dark room, then you will never see the world. If you sit in the dark room and expect somebody to reveal the world to you, that’s not going to happen either. All anyone can do is open the door and wait for you to step through. It’s the same with meditation or prayer, when done with patience, it is standing in the sun of the divine presence awaiting the veil to fall away so that you can finally see what has been hidden from you for so long.
Practising patience on the mat and off the mat, in little moments and big, helps immensely in the development of patience when it comes to the spiritual path. The better you get at patience at home, the more you will be able to unlock the patience required from the soul before it can advance further on its journey to self-actualization.
I have found that many people are very much stuck in the “cause and effect” model of living, where they will perform an action and get upset when the logical effect of such an action doesn’t occur right away (“But I’ve reduced my calorie intake, and worked out 3 hours every day this week! Why am I not losing enough weight???” – Sound familiar?).
So I use advanced yoga asanas as experiential proof that investing the time and effort into something that may not ever bear its fruit (though it usually does) allows me to enjoy the unfolding of the process more than if I focus singularly on the goal that is not yet achieved. It also has the added bonus of spill-over benefits in other parts of your life.
As you may know, I am OBSESSED with handstands. My ultimate goal is to be able to pike up with great control into a handstand, move through variations and transition smoothly into wheels, arm balances, chinstands, all of it! I want it all! At this point in my yoga journey, I just started kicking up into handstands without the help of a wall. But never once do I think about how far I have left to go anymore. It makes me miserable to think about it and I start attaching unhealthy, completely unrelated meanings to the final result (“I’ll be a real yoga teacher when I can pike.”) When I used to think like that, the result was usually explosive anger and frustration, injury, and absolutely no progress on the asana. Ever since I began focusing on the step-by-step, enjoying the feeling of first being able to kick up to the wall, then to be able to hover away from the wall and now to kick up and find that centre of balance without the wall and feel the rush of when, a few seconds later, I can somewhat control my fall out of the pose, there has been such an influx of joy in my life. I literally do a handstand whenever I need cheering up now since I associate it so much with joy.
So your task today is to pick a yoga asana that you are nowhere near “accomplishing” (the true accomplishment being, of course, the journey), and googling prep poses for it. Use your practice to enjoy each station along the path to the asana, relishing and cherishing every prep pose and every detail of the pose that finally “clicks,” making the intention that you will find joy in the process even if you never ever achieve the final form of the asana itself.
Once you can truly explore the joy of the present while you patiently work towards the future, you will enjoy several spillover effects: 1. You will get stronger and other difficult asanas will become easier for you along the way, 2. You will begin to trust the process of life and will experience many more moments of happiness as you relax into the present and release your anxieties about the future, 3. Once you open your heart to the present, more good things flow into your life because you’re not trying to force it, 4. You become a better human being because you don’t have to keep trying to control everything to try and guarantee certain results anymore, you’ve seen what can happen if you can just be with yourself as yourself in the moment and actually enjoy it.
May you be filled with peace,
Next, we take a look at the state of Longing, the condition of the heart as it awaits the moment of reunion with the Divine Beloved.
For the introduction to this series, click here.