If we don’t have patience at the start of our spiritual journey – and no one truly does – we will certainly have it by the end. Patience is perhaps our biggest challenge because patience is related to surrender, something that everyone struggles to attain.
Saints remind us that just as worldly success takes time to manifest, the same is true for spiritual realization. With spirituality, sometimes we think that since God is in charge, progress should happen immediately. But just being initiated doesn’t give us the experience of God. We must travel the path and slowly come to realize the truth. Dnyaneshwar says in Many Voices, One Song:
One might make all the intellectual preparation for the realization of God and meet a Guru who imparts the knowledge of the true path, but is one able to attain one’s original health as soon as one has taken some medicine? … To experience a life in union with God is a matter of only gradual attainment. Even though various kinds of dishes may be placed before a hungry man, still he attains satisfaction only by eating morsel after morsel.
We’re like square pegs that are trying to fit into a round hole. This reshaping happens only gradually. We may put in years of effort and still feel that we haven’t experienced God. Patience comes from controlling our mind, a process that doesn’t happen overnight. In Many Voices, One Song, the author comments that “the mind can be brought under control only by unrelenting effort like that which is required to empty an ocean drop by drop with the help of a blade of grass.”
Longing and impatience created by a seeming lack of visible progress is a common element in the lives of those who follow a spiritual path. It’s not just a new disciple who has these feelings. We find this sense of frustration in the writings of many saints who ask in different ways why the Lord doesn’t speak to them or come to them. Surely these saints have put in a tremendous amount of effort and time, yet they also feel frustration which produces a powerful sense of longing for a connection with the Divine. Tukaram is quoted in Many Voices, One Song:
O Lord, why don’t you speak to me?
With my life in my throat,
I’m awaiting your words,
but you’re so indifferent!
All disciples go through ups and downs and face big and small frustrations as part of following a spiritual path that leads one back to the Lord. Many of us find that this path seems slow. But success is sure because we have the Lord and our Master at our back. Master has taken the responsibility on his shoulders for our safe travel home. Getting accepted for initiation lets us know that we have enough love to travel this path; that we can do it. In Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II, Maharaj Charan Singh says:
Master’s helping hand is always there for our spiritual development. We could never spiritually develop at all without his guidance, whether outside or inside. His helping hand is always there with the disciple, for his spiritual development.
It’s up to us to respond to the trust and love our Master has given us. Success on this path is assured but requires our efforts as well. Definitely we all stumble and fall, but if we see getting back up as part of our job or duty, we’ll get through the hard parts more easily and quickly. Our progress depends on our effort and his grace. Hazur tells us in Quest for Light that “Sincere effort is always repaid in terms of more pleasure in meditation.”
Patience is required in all aspects of life – whether physical or spiritual. We have no other option but to do our best in all sincerity and then to wait patiently at the door for the Lord to let us in. We are being taught patience. Let us never lose heart. We are in his hands. With patience and effort we move forward.
The certainty of our spiritual union with the Lord is beautifully expressed in The Book of Privy Counseling, written by the 14th-century English mystic who also wrote The Cloud of Unknowing:
Still, do not lose heart. I promise you he will return and soon. In his own time he will come. Mightily and more wonderfully than ever before he will come to your rescue and relieve your anguish…. With your enthusiasm gone you will think you have lost him, too, but this is not so; it is only that he wishes to teach you patience. For make no mistake about this; God may at times withdraw sweet emotions, joyful enthusiasm, and burning desires but he never withdraws his grace from those he has chosen…. Of this I am certain.