Saturday, 12 May 2007

Waiting for Rain

I spent the middle two weeks of March in Los Angeles, visiting my parents. It hadn’t rained for a week when I left, and didn’t rain here the whole time I was away. It then continued to not rain until last week. Every evening, I watered my garden, anxious and pessimistic, until the water butt was empty.

‘The drought has started early this year’, I said to my Sweetheart.

‘How long have you lived in this country?’, he replied. ‘It will rain. Don’t worry.’

‘It’s global warming’, I grumbled. ‘It will never rain again.’

But I was wrong, and as is so often the case, he was right. It’s been raining in the Southeast on and off for a week, the garden has exploded into growth, and the water butt is full again.

All the while, I kept thinking of Hexagram 5, XU, which is variously translated as Waiting, Needing, Attending, Calculated Inaction. Some interpret it as ‘Waiting for Rain’, others as ‘Waiting for the Rain to Stop’ – in either case, you are waiting for circumstances outside your control to change.

The overall message of the hexagram is that you need patience, confidence, steadfastness and faith to wait until the time is right for action. Just as you wouldn’t take a cake out of the oven when it’s half-baked, or pull up your radishes as soon as they produce leaves, you need to wait until the situation has matured and ripened, and the time is right to act.

It’s funny how the same message often comes through on different channels. Last week, while reorganizing my filing system, I came across some old journals, written during a time when my life felt cramped and blocked. No matter how I tried to get out of this situation, I couldn’t shift it. Meanwhile, I was doing all kinds of inner work: prayer, ritual, therapy, the lot – in an attempt to overcome my own desperate impatience and frustration, or my own inner blocks to change. The journals recorded one attempt after another to transform both my inner and outer situation, but nothing worked – until one day, it all changed overnight. The time was right, and suddenly everything worked – the garden of my life exploded into growth, and the water butt filled up again.

One of the stories behind this hexagram is that when King Wen was planning to overthrow the tyrannical king of the Shang, he looked for a suitable place to establish his capital. He considered many possible places, but all of them had some fatal drawback. Eventually he chose Feng, a name meaning ‘safe place’, where his army were able to wait calmly, enjoying good food and wine, strengthening themselves while waiting until the time was right to overthrow the Shang. (The story of King Wen’s victory over the Shang is an epic tale, a ripping yarn with many twists and turns – but suffice it to say he was successful in the end.)

This hexagram shows the capacity of humans to follow the Dao. Waiting does not mean idleness. In the time of XU, waiting is a positive act. It’s a moment of creative tension, of gathering force and energy before acting. Its shadow is timidity, fear or needless striving – and my journals were certainly full of all three, though all that inner work was a way of strengthening myself. But the agonized fretting was such a waste of energy, when I could have been “eating and drinking, feasting with joy”, which is Confucius’ advice in this situation.

Next time I’m in a time of XU, maybe I’ll be able to wait calmly and patiently, with confidence and faith…

Meanwhile, I’ve installed a second water butt. Best to be prepared.

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