The Waiting Room
It can seem like we spend a lot of our lives waiting: waiting for the pandemic to be over, waiting to see family and friends, or waiting for our health to be restored. We might be waiting to feel like a grown-up, or waiting to become financially secure, or waiting for the world to make more meaningful responses to the threats of climate change.
On our spiritual path, most of us are waiting for sound and light. We want to hear and be lifted by the Shabd. We want to see the radiant Master, our Beloved, within ourselves. We have been waiting for discernible spiritual progress. Instead, the place where we are waiting may seem to us dark and silent.
When we were first initiated, we might have been among those deluded souls who assumed we wouldn’t have to wait at all! We hoped that as soon as we were initiated, with just a few rounds of simran, we would be fully prepared to return to the Lord. Decades later, often many decades later, we have had to conclude that we weren’t anywhere near as receptive or as ready for enlightenment as we imagined. Our destiny turns out to have been something far beyond what we might have expected. Our attachments are stronger than we thought. Our capacity for distraction seems endless. We have had duties and obligations in the world that have filled our days and years. And apparently, most of us have had a lot of karma to go through.
The waiting rooms of the material world (at the doctor’s, the government office, or the train station) are mostly uncomfortable places, perhaps containing a few old magazines, a blaring TV and constant, unintelligible announcements. While there, we might ponder all the important activities we are missing. We might twiddle our thumbs, tap our feet, or scroll through our phones.
But the space we inhabit while we await spiritual progress is profoundly different. To begin with, “waiting for God” is the most important thing we can do. It is essential and life-giving. We are waiting at the eye centre for the most fortunate meeting of our lives – our meeting with our spiritual teacher. This waiting is neither passive nor unproductive. We are active and engaged, in a place of true higher learning. While we wait, we learn the importance of effort, the limits of our own minds and our need for forgiveness. We are learning humility, patience and obedience. In this waiting period, our lives will be happily spent if we are practising trust, courage and perseverance. This spiritual time of waiting has unimaginable resources available to the initiate.
Most important, we do not wait alone. As Shams-e Tabrizi said to his disciple Rumi (in Shams-e Tabrizi), “Do you not see the grace of our companionship, which is also eternal?” And in Philosophy of the Masters (Vol. V), the Great Master describes just how close the Guru is to his initiates:
He remains constantly with the disciple and helps him.… He is the helper of the helpless and supporter of the unsupported…. The Master does not let the disciple face situations that are too difficult for him…. the Master protects the disciple from sufferings and difficulties without even telling him anything about them.
So, we have the best, most loving company while we wait. But we also are given important work to do – meditation. Simran and bhajan are by far the most productive way we can spend our time in this waiting room. Hazur wrote in Die to Live that every minute we meditate is to our credit and moves us forward.
There are other activities and resources we can use that will help us in our meditation. Satsang, spiritual literature that inspires and encourages our efforts, and seva. Serving the Master, the community, or the people we encounter in our daily lives is the most productive and satisfying way we can spend our time out in the world while we wait.
We have also been given prashad. Our spiritual teachers tell us that every breath is prashad, a gift. We are not only supposed to appreciate the many gifts of this life, we are also urged to use them to move closer to what is true, real and eternal. If the Lord is constantly showering extraordinary gifts on us (such as the beauties of nature, friends who stick with us through thick and thin, and shelter from the elements), we need to be grateful, to appreciate what he has given. It is our responsibility and privilege to marshal these resources into the energy that will enable us to continue our spiritual efforts with enthusiasm and positivity.
There are certain mindsets that are counterproductive in our metaphorical waiting room. It is not recommended to:
Petition the Master for early release. While our longing and impatience to be with our Beloved might feel compelling, it is the height of arrogance to dictate to the Guru what we believe is the right schedule for our release. If God is all-knowing, then he knows our destiny and when and how we will enter the realms of higher consciousness. We do not.
Describe to the Master what our discipleship should look like. The Masters ask us to do our best. They welcome our efforts. But they do not expect us to control the mind through sheer willpower. (Only the Shabd can control the mind, we are taught.) Great Master neatly summed up our dilemma in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. V: “If it had been in our own power to go back, we would not have remained separated from the Lord.” In this waiting room, we are learning how to beg, be receptive, and want what the Lord wants us to be, not to become idealized super-disciples who try to fly under their own power back to God.
Put our faith in an ideal location. We might imagine that it would be easier to wait at the Dera, or to wait in another country, or to be surrounded by a different set of people. But as the Masters often repeat, what we want will be given to us only on the inside. All other outer scenarios (jobs, life circumstances, relationships, political solutions) will ultimately leave us unsatisfied and restless.
Get discouraged. This is not a path for the faint of heart. If we must spend a long time waiting, it will do no good to become frustrated or despondent. Maharaj Jagat Singh said it beautifully in The Science of the Soul:
We must strive hard to subdue the mind and put in every effort to drive away the evil qualities that overpower us. But if after struggling very hard we still find that we have not advanced a single foot on this long journey, we should not get disheartened. Master knows well that with our feeble hands and feet, we shall not be able to accomplish this journey even if we were to go on travelling for a hundred thousand years. He wants to impress upon us that unless the Lord’s grace intervenes, no one can walk on this path of immortality. When we collapse and fall, and have no strength to struggle further, then Master’s loving kindness and grace will carry us forward as a tottering child is carried in the arms by its mother.
The waiting room is where we will experience the Lord’s loving kindness and grace. And that is worth waiting for.