“You take it on faith, you take it to the heart, the waiting is the hardest part.” ~ Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
It was the middle of the week in the middle of summer, a hot and quiet Wednesday.
I was working from home, waiting for a delivery that would require my signature. I woke up, made some coffee and answered some emails from my kitchen table. Then I cooked up some eggs and took a shower. I was cozy at home, but part of me couldn’t help feeling a little stuck. Knowing that I had to wait at home was making me think of everything else I could be doing instead.
I’ve never really been that good at waiting. Waiting is something that I’ve had to learn how to do, and even when I’m able to do it well, that doesn’t always mean that I’ll be able to do it well again. Waiting is work for me. It’s one of those basic skills that I’d wished had been taught in school. If that had been the case, then, surely, I’d be better at it by now! Although I’m not so sure what kind of class that would have been. What would we have done? Would we have just sat at our desks, waiting? What would we have been waiting for?
What I was waiting for today was a raincoat. I’d been out shopping the other day and had spotted a raincoat as I was leaving the store. When I saw it, it occurred to me that I hadn’t had a real raincoat since I was a little girl! I could faintly recall the smell of plastic and a vague feeling of being hot, stuck as a child inside my slicker in much the same way as I was currently stuck inside my house.
I reached for the raincoat and tried it on. It went down to my knees and had a hood, which I thought was good, because I never liked to carry an umbrella. I was too small for the size I was trying on, but I zipped it up anyway, and when I did a part of me instantly reverted to that same child I’d been the last time I’d worn one. I dutifully held out my arms for the salesperson to adjust my sleeves and then stood still while he pulled in the drawstring at my waist.
It was time to test the coat. I looked in the mirror, spun around and flapped my arms up and down.
The fabric breathed well, and I could easily imagine myself walking through a downpour. Miraculously, I’d found a slicker that wasn’t slick! The salesperson located my size in another store and arranged to have it shipped. I’d have to wait for my new raincoat, but that was okay. Apparently, I’d already been waiting for decades without even realizing it! A few more days wouldn’t hurt.
Another thing for which I’d apparently been waiting for decades without even realizing it was yoga. Oh, how I wish I could have found the practice earlier! But I guess there are just some things for which we are destined to wait, and for me one of them was yoga. I had to stumble upon the practice in much the same way as I’d stumbled upon my new raincoat. I hadn’t been looking for either.
When I first started yoga, my only objective was to get fit. I had no idea that there was any more to the practice than that. But it wasn’t long before I discovered how much more to it there actually was. In fact, there was so much more that I didn’t even know what to do with it all! For me, practicing was the same as zipping myself up in that raincoat. When I rolled out my mat, a part of me instantly reverted to that same child I’d been the last time I’d moved like that.
And that made me wonder. What had happened to that child since then? And why had she waited so long to move like that again?
Yoga was a new beginning for me, and I couldn’t help but practice all the time. I had yet to hear the famous words of K. Pattabhi Jois (1915 – 2009) who had told his students, “Practice, and all is coming”, but apparently that was what I was doing. And that’s how I came to realize that yoga was more than a fitness program. It was the class that had been missing from all my years at school, the one that would have taught me how to wait!
The practice was teaching me how to be patient. I even learned how to take a nap! Before yoga, I could never nap, but the practice taught me how to lie down and close my eyes. Slowly and over time, I was learning how to be still and still be okay.
But patience is an ongoing practice, and waiting at home for today’s delivery had me feeling antsy. I started fantasizing about all the things I could be doing if I weren’t at home waiting. I could be at yoga. I could be grocery shopping. I could be swimming laps at the pool or meeting a friend for lunch. Of course, realistically, I knew that none of these were things I could ever be doing in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, in the middle of the summer! I knew that if I weren’t at home waiting on this hot and quiet Wednesday, then I’d otherwise have to be at the office.
And for that very reason I knew that I was lucky to be waiting at home. Work was different these days. We’d had some turnover, and the energy in the office had shifted. We were in waiting mode, missing the ones who had left. They’d been the ones responsible for making our workplace a home away from home, and they’d also been the ones who had waited for me. When my family encountered a time of loss, they’d done for me what my practice had done. They’d given me the chance to be still.
And that enabled my family and I to be present in our grief. It allowed for us to lie down and close our eyes after great loss, because that’s what waiting does. It allows for the essential space after something has finished and before something else has begun. Waiting keeps us from jumping ahead of ourselves, so that we can process what’s happened and ultimately find our way to peace.
It was already mid-afternoon, and my package had yet to arrive. Chilly from waiting inside in the air conditioning, I decided to take a quick soak in a hot bath. As if it were wintertime, I drew a bath and climbed in. Within minutes, though, there was a knock at the door. My delivery was here! I splashed my way out of the tub, threw on my clothes and raced down the steps, still wet. I answered the door and signed for the package.
“I don’t know why this was sent with a signature required!” I exclaimed to the deliveryman. “I had to stay home from work!”
“I’m sure there is something very valuable inside,” he replied, as he handed me an oversized box. He smiled with the patience of a man who was used to having people wait for him. “Maybe it’s a Rolex watch!”
I laughed and told him what it was. “It’s a raincoat!” I said.
I closed the door and opened the box and tried on my new raincoat. It fit perfectly! I looked in the mirror, spun around and flapped my arms up and down. I couldn’t believe how happy it made me! Lucky for me, my new raincoat had arrived in time for a trip out of town. It was supposed to rain where I was going. I hung my new raincoat in the front closet, thinking how it might really be true that good things come to those who wait!
Of course, it would be nice if that were always the case, but I also know what is true is that sometimes what goes up must come down, and I’ve certainly had my share of both ups and downs. But the practice helps with that, too. In yoga, for every lifting energy, there is always a grounding energy. Every pose pulls our bodies in these two opposite directions, and it’s our job to find just the right amount of effort in each. That’s how we find our balance, and that’s how we cultivate our patience.
And it’s in this effort that the wait is always worth it, because when we do find our balance, what we’ve really found is our center. All that effort brings us to the place where it no longer matters what’s come before or what’s coming after. Filled with stillness and peace, our center is a hot bath that’s always drawn inside of us. And if we do the work, then the practice lets us climb in and soak there for a while.
Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I can even soak there for days. And when this happens, other things start to happen, too. It’s hard to explain, but the best I can say is that when I sit inside of myself like this, messages start to arrive for me like unexpected deliveries! Each one is a package filled with synchronistic signs. They knock on the door of my consciousness and surprise me every time! I receive them in my dreams, in my thoughts and in the things people say, and I see them in colors and numbers and other random displays. I can’t really explain this much further, except to say that from inside my center the biggest message I get is that everything’s okay.
A few days after my raincoat arrived, I received yet another surprise. I showed up at yoga, and there, hanging on the rack near the lockers, was my other coat! It was my pretend raincoat, the windbreaker I often wear on rainy days. In a strange sort of exchange, I must have left it behind, just as my new one was on its way! Somehow, it felt right to find it here tonight; but, still, it struck me to see it hanging there. It seemed to be patiently waiting for me, although I hadn’t even known it was missing!
That evening, at the end of our practice, we settled into Savasana, our final resting pose. This is the pose that’s been so helpful in teaching me how to nap, and so I did what I now do so well. I laid down and closed my eyes. And then I listened as the instructor spoke to us about the ups and downs of the practice. He reminded us about how the practice is different from day to day and urged us not to be concerned with what’s come before or what’s coming after.
“Your practice will be what it is,” he said. “Be patient. See if you can be okay with waiting.”
It was another unexpected delivery! I’d heard this message from somewhere deep inside my center, and so when I sat up I made sure to place my hands in prayer, so I could seal it properly in there. I wanted to give it a good chance to soak.
And then I packed up my things to make my way home, making sure to take with me my old coat. And when I got home, the first thing I did was open the front closet and hang it up, right next to my new one. I liked how there was room enough for both. Then I turned off the lights and went upstairs.
Now all I had to do was wait for it to rain.