Waiting Beautifully

In his memoir Long Life, Honey in the Heart, American author Martin Prechtel describes how the elders in the Guatemalan village of Santiago Atitlan where he lived in the `70s and `80s waited for the newly initiated boys to emerge from the house of a local chieftain after ceremonies marking the end of a year’s training: “All Tzutujil had to be good at waiting, but the hierarchy were the best there was because their waiting was sacred. They knew after years of ritual that waiting beautifully and well was a major part of every ceremony. Each aspect of a well-done ritual was part of what they called food for the spirits. Because the spirits ate mostly beauty, a body of ancient ritualists like these had to dress in the most delicious way and wait in such a manner that the beauty of their waiting could be feasted upon by the gods.”

We must do the same kind of beautiful waiting when we sit down at our desks before the blank page. This means holding ourselves open to what’s ready to come. Some days we tap into a river that seems to pour endlessly onto the page. We let go into the stream moving through us, and surrender to what wants to be written in the moment. There is no effort involved and in a sense we become a transcriber for the words. It is the creative energy moving through us, dictating where the writing wants to go. If we let our rational minds take over and tell us this isn’t going anywhere, or this isn’t important enough, we stop the flow. We get stuck in our own conditioning, which is often the belief we must write about something the mind has dictated so we can feel productive. Yet the creative energy doesn’t care about our agendas. It just wants to flow onto the page. It wants an unobstructed channel. We may be entering into deeper levels of concentration, preparing for something yet unknown to us.

This is what Rainer Maria Rilke experienced one morning in the winter of 1912. As he walked along the cliffs near Dunio Castle in northeastern Italy, he heard “Who if I cried out, would hear me among the angels?” which he wrote down in his notebook. By nightfall, he’d completed the first section of his famous Dunio Elegies, considered one of the poetic masterpieces of the twentieth century. The second elegy came that winter, but it was another ten years before he finished the whole sequence. Rilke devoted his life to waiting beautifully, even though it demanded much of him, for he knew this was the way to the truest writing. In his Letters to a Young Poet he talks of this process of waiting when he says: “Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.”

Are you willing to bring deep humility and patience to a writing project you’d like to begin or continue with? What would help you honor this?

Warmest Blessings,