Sitting at the wall


Image by J. Parrish Lewis

I get hung up on results quite often. I have these concepts of what I want to be or what I want to exist in my life, and I take steps toward making that a reality. Yet in the process of doing this, I have this annoying habit of being drawn to outcomes. Results.

If the outcomes don’t come quickly enough, if I don’t see the results I want quickly enough, I lose steam. This has always been a problem. Sometimes months will go by with measurable success, and then I hit a wall. Then because I’m so preoccupied with the wall in front of me, I can’t take the time to turn around and look at how far I’ve just traveled.

I stand at this wall — Let’s just visualize an actual wall of fat stones and mortar, stretching into the distance to my left and to my right. For extra measure, let’s make this in the middle of green rolling hills and in thick fog, because that sounds pleasant — and it’s all I can focus on. Behind me is a path that I’ve taken. At times, it was rough going, and I had to push through, but I made it through those spots.

Now I am at the wall and it’s quite formidable. It’s simply not going to let me go forward. I’m frustrated because I’ve had a destination in mind, and now I can’t immediately keep on going toward it. I try pushing on the wall and I only hurt my wrists. I try climbing up, but I just slide down.

So I give up. I take the left, or I take the right. The wall stands there still, out of the corner of my eye, a reminder of what I couldn’t surmount. Eventually I wander away and find my way back to where I’ve started.

There’s this poem by Robert Frost that was an instant favorite of mine from the very first time I read it. It’s called Mending Wall, in which Frost describes meeting his neighbor to repair a wall between their properties. He wonders about this yearly habit of theirs, and whether it’s worth doing. He’s feeling, clearly, that inner resistance to the act.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.

The poem pops in my mind now and then, usually when I think about how separate we are from our neighbors. Today I think about this wall in my mind, and the poem floats to the surface.

Why must I “hit” a wall? Here I come to a wall, what is really just some kind of sign that progress may have stopped. Results may not be coming any closer. Outcomes may be beyond reach. Things have come to a stall, and I once again will face a choice.

But suppose I choose not to hit the wall? Suppose I sit down in front of it, taking some time to pause and reflect upon its existence or non-existence. Suppose I admire the wall for what it is: a construct, even an imagined one, that actually represents movement. It represents movement, because without movement, I wouldn’t have reached the wall — I’d be way back where I started.

Suppose instead of being preoccupied with the wall preventing me from where I want to go, I focus on enjoying where I am right now. I could focus on enjoying that I am in the process of practicing being the kind of person I want to be. I’m already practicing it; I do not need the outcomes or the results in order to already be practicing it.

If I can focus on enjoying the act of being the person I want to be, regardless of the outcome, it doesn’t matter that the wall is there. Perhaps it is always moving, imperceptibly, even if it seems fixed in place.

Then suddenly, after whatever amount of time is necessary to pass, the wall leaves, flitting across those green hills into the foggy distance where it’ll wait for me over there.

Then I can stand up, dust the dirt from my clothes, and keep going on my travels, still appreciating that I’m being the person I want to be. The fact that I am now walking forward rather than sitting isn’t actually that important at all, because either way I am that person.

Don’t be concerned with the fruit of your action ~ just give attention to the action itself. The fruit will come of its own accord. This is an powerful spiritual practice. When the compulsive striving away from the now ceases, the joy of being flows into everything you do.The moment your attention turns to the Now, you feel a presence, a stillness, a peace. You no longer depend on the future for fulfillment & satisfaction ~ you don’t look to it for salvation. Therefore, you are not attached to the results. Neither failure nor success has the power to change your inner state of Being You have found the life underneath your life situation.

Eckhart Tolle


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