Workplace Wisdom

Waiting for Things to Settle Down

This past weekend, I attended a meeting sponsored by the Omega Institute to hear Thich Nhat Hanh speak. He’s the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who was nominated by Martin Luther King, Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize, and is well known for his teachings and writings about the relationship between the individual’s ability to be at peace and the possibility of creating peace in the world.

Regardless of how clever or well intentioned we are, says Thich Nhat Hanh, any sense of internal unrest blocks our ability to “be peace” and therefore to share peace with others, to model it and inspire it in others.

One of the most significant aspects of “being peace” is that it requires a kind of self-control — not a harsh clamping down, but a kind of awareness, and an acknowledgement, of the reality of the present moment.

Sometimes all it takes to gain this personal control is simply to stop. Not to rush forward. Not to react, but to pause and wait. Sometimes the waiting itself creates opportunities and beneficial conditions that otherwise would not be possible.

In his talks and books, Thich Nhat Hanh gives several versions of a teaching about a glass of muddy river water. No matter how thirsty you might be, the experience of drinking a glass of muddy water will be unpleasant at best and potentially harmful at worst.

But if you had the insight, the presence of mind, and the self-control to wait for a while, the mud would settle to the bottom of the glass. Then you would be rewarded with almost a full glass of potable water and your thirst would be satisfied.

This kind of waiting is not stalling or procrastination. It is a deliberate suspension of urgency in order to create a better outcome.

Would you be able to wait for the mud to settle? What could you choose to wait for this week as a way to be rewarded, satisfied, and create a better outcome?

Onward and upward,

LK

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4 thoughts on “Waiting for Things to Settle Down”

  1. Liz, this is a tremendous post and a great reminder. You speak about it very simply and directly, just like Thich Nhat Hanh! I recently had a very profound experience, seeing that the ‘awareness’ and/or ‘peace’ is more available and quicker to realize than I had previously thought. Wonderful to have this experience personally, however, I can tell that it has already had powerful effects on how I approach my business as well. Thank you for such an inspiring post. Matt

    • Thanks, Matt, for this lovely comment. It’s amazing how things like self-awareness, which was once relegated to “soft skills,” can have a powerful impact on business as well as the rest of life.

    • The first step is probably to be able to identify your own reactions (and overreactions) — as close to the beginning of the experience as possible. For most people, it’s easiest to notice a physical sensation: your face gets hot, your throat has a lump in it, your foot starts swinging wildly, your shoulders head for your ears — those kinds of things. Or you might notice that your thoughts are running away with you and your internal self-talk takes on a harsh, judgmental tone.

      Just noticing these things lets you recognize that you are “having a reaction.” Then you can cool off a bit and try to identify the source or reason, maybe even figure out an alternative response. But the very first thing is to notice the reaction itself. That’s a big step — in the right direction!

 

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