What Are You Waiting For?

Posted on in On Our Radar by Mary Saunders

The Wisdom of Winter


In the depths of winter everything may look dead, but the earth is simply resting, waiting for the right conditions for growth to return. Think of a seed, lying dormant in the cold winter soil. It stores within itself the nutrients and potential necessary for life. It waits until the conditions are right to germinate and begin the cycle of renewal. Humans are meant to experience dormancy in a similar manner. If we take time to be silent and still, and access our inner wisdom while we are waiting, we too can tap into the resources stored within as we embark upon new endeavors.

The ancient wisdom of Oriental medicine explains that this time of dormancy corresponds with winter and the Water phase. The Five Phases are metaphors for elemental qualities of energy that are constantly in relationship to one another in nature and within us. Water is the phase of ultimate yin, with the energy moving down away from the surface into the depths. This energy is tied to the deepest essence of the body, the marrow in our bones, the root of our being. It reflects our relationship to the unconscious mind, sexuality, power, financial resources, and the unknown. For many of us, these are challenging issues, to say the least. We may be intrigued by what lies within us, but also afraid of what may bubble up from the depths through dreams, memories, and images.

We may resist the discomfort of the unknown by staying busy and engaged in myriad pursuits, living on the surface to avoid the most profound parts of ourselves. Speaking with Donna, a successful software engineer, I hear her frustration. “I have worked extremely hard for many years in my career, but now I wonder, Why I am doing all this? I am not even sure this is what I want! More than anything, there is this sense that I am waiting for something so I can have my real life,” she says.

I guide her to turn her attention inward and to mindfully observe what comes up when I ask what she is waiting for. We hear many unexpected responses. I am waiting . . . until I am stronger . . . to be discovered . . . for permission . . . to have enough money . . . for approval . . . until I am sure what to do. And finally, she gets to the response that most resonates with her: I am waiting to be saved.

Many of my clients are shocked when they discover an unconscious core belief like this. “Waiting to be saved? Really? How is this possible? I am a modern, intelligent, independent person,” they say. However, this is not an uncommon response; I have heard many of my clients say this, and I have experienced it myself. It is really not so surprising in a culture that pushes the romantic ideal of the knight in shining armor or the perfect woman of our dreams, the enlightened spiritual teacher, powerful shaman, philanthropic organization, wealthy Oprah-style benefactor, or more recently, the group of scientists with new technology coming to save us from ourselves at the last dramatic moment.

These unconscious beliefs keep us from taking full responsibility for diving deeply and accessing the parts of ourselves that need to become conscious and then cultivated for us to live what is meaningful to us. Waiting, instead of being a beautiful and natural part of the cyclical rhythms in life, then becomes avoidance. Donna realized that the long hours focused on unfulfilling work and her unconscious beliefs about waiting were undermining her ability to move forward in her life.

I ask Donna to be mindful and notice what happens when she hears me say, “No one is coming to save you.” Her instant response? Relief! “I don’t have to wait anymore! I can do what I want, the way I want. I don’t have to wait until someone gives me permission or approval or money—none of it. I can do it now,” she says. She was surprised; she thought she would feel devastated that after waiting so long, no one was coming. But no, she felt energized by knowing she had to step up and own her power. Becoming more self-aware, even about blind spots or painful truths about one’s self, actually strengthens us. And Donna has remembered an enduring truth: now is the only time that exists. The potential for healing, growth, and transformation is available only in the present moment.

Winter and the energy of the Water phase support us to dive deeply into our depths. Now is the time to turn your awareness to the unknown and to your own unconscious mind, trusting they have something important to teach you. Ancient wisdom tells you to use your capacity for contemplation to face your fears and habitual patterns of avoidance and turn them into wisdom. You will not necessarily resolve all of your deep-seated issues; often that is just not possible, nor is it necessary. However, by shifting your awareness and coming into relationship with these issues, you garner self-knowledge and wisdom to use for your benefit as well as the healing of the world.

With over 25 years of experience in Oriental medicine, Mary Saunders is a practitioner, an educator, and a coach who speaks from a place of direct experience. She is the author of Rhythms of Change: Reclaiming Your Health Using Ancient Wisdom and Your Own Common Sense. MarySaundersHealth.com

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