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Waiting in the Wings


I’ve been so consumed with rehearsing a play of late that I feared my practice was being short-changed. My usual regimen of daily sits and studying had become more of a catch-as-catch-can affair (especially with the holidays and visits from family tossed into the mix) and I was sure I was “losing” something, the way muscles go flabby when you don’t go to the gym. But I asked myself if there was something to be learned during this unintentional break.

And what I found was surprising, and encouraging.

Something curious happened as I waited off-stage for a cue the other day. My heart was racing and my mind was buzzing with anticipation, as often happens, and it occurred to me that waiting for an entrance is just as nerve-wracking as actually being out there in the spotlight. This might seem obvious to anyone who has ever so much as spoken in public, but there was something in the noticing of this suddenly metaphorical moment that had a profound effect.

We often assume that it’s the “doing” of things that matters, i.e., the moment of taking the stage and praying you’ve got the right props, or the time spent sitting on the cushion, while the rest of it secondary. But the practice is continual and ever-present, and can even be happening in what may feel like the unconscious. Standing there backstage and asking myself if there was something to notice came with a natural ease, not the forced push as in the earliest days of my practice, and the ability to hold the answer with a kind of graceful detachment was equally achieved without much strain. (And, yes, I was still waiting for my cue... and yes, I got on stage in time...)

I’m still largely a novice practitioner, with much to learn, but even my short two years of practice and study have provided me a fairly solid foundation. Many of my mental habits have changed through skillful application of the middle way. And many of these were brought to light by the “time off” (and the subsequent attention paid to the time away). But the question arises: would I have noticed this without the break?

Hard to say, but the pause, and the residual lessons of the practice and the teachings, were still there, and active. As I walked back to the subway, I listened to a talk by Lama Marut (www.lamamarut.org). His booming voice rang out, “You have to work hard to get to the point of not having to work hard.”

So true.

I still have a long way to go, of course. But it’s a comfort to know that somehow the work is with me, even when I’m not with the work.

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