Some choices are easy to make like choosing oatmeal for breakfast or, if possible, choosing to avoid the highway during rush hour. Honey or maple syrup? Whatever is on hand, I guess. These are small and straight forward choices but bigger ones might be easy to make too. Life changing ones like where to live, who to love, what to pursue for work can be so clear to us that there’s no option of anything or anyone else.
We must make other choices too that don’t come so easily. Small ones even, like picking out a Christmas tree. And life changing ones like where to live, who to love, what to pursue for work. If the answers aren’t immediate and clear, we might feel like we’re wrestling in the dark for an answer. Our sense of navigation falters and we have no clear direction.
Sometimes answers come much more quietly and not always when we want them to come. Matthew Sanford, an Iyengar yoga teacher and President of Mind Body Solutions, describes an analogy of encountering silence in the physical body in an interview here. He compares it to the transition of walking from a well-lit room into a dark one. At first we cannot see anything. But if we stay and pause, there will usually be enough light to make it across the room. When we encounter darkness or a choice that doesn’t come so easily, we must make the decision whether to thrash around looking for reorientation or wait, patiently, for our eyes to adjust. This is the skill, patience, which many of us find challenging.
And here is where we get to discernment, the skill to obtain sharp perceptions in order to choose our actions (or non-actions). Clearly, Sanford meant that this skill was about more than just eyesight, the most obtrusive sense of them all. Even if we cannot see, what might we hear, what might we feel, what might we smell? What are the subtler clues that we miss when needlessly knocking the mug off the coffee table or smacking our body into walls. He’s telling us, be curious, be discerning, be patient and a light will come to inform our actions. It just might not come when we most want it to or out of fear or urgency. There is much to be said for waiting and cultivating patience in the dark.
Absolutely, there are times when we must stumble around trying to find our way (There’s got to be a damn window in here, right?), when we do not have the luxury of waiting to choose. If we cannot wait for our eyes to adjust, we might need to make a choice that enters us into an even more unfamiliar dark room. Now, we can again take Sanford’s advice.
A pitfall for me is that patience is so dangerously close to complacency or perhaps fear. When does the not moving, the waiting around for some light to start seeping into our brains, become harmful? Only we can answer this for ourselves. Patience and discernment is developed through our own experience. These skills are not about always choosing the best decision but about softening and cultivating a recognition of more subtle qualities of light and all other things that touch our senses of perception. Through cultivating patience no matter how well-lit our experience, Sanford encourages that "the moon might reveal itself, life might reveal itself, only darker."
You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
~ Franz Kafka