Many years ago, a friend of mine told me a funny story about something she experienced during a guided meditation. It has stuck with me ever since, the way things do when they hold a deep kernel of wisdom.
She and I were in a workshop together where the leader led us in a “wise guide” meditation. This is a common type of guided visualization, one I do with my students to this day. In it, participants are led on a journey to meet an inner guide, with the explicit aim of receiving answers or direction from a level deeper than their conscious awareness.
My students are often surprised at how well this works. For virtually everyone, a guide of some kind appears, with something to communicate. And yet, most of the time, the guidance is not what my students expected, or quite what they wanted. They usually feel a little frustrated that the “answers” are not more clear.
That’s how it was with my friend, way back when. During the visualization, in her mind’s eye, she saw herself on a beach. The guide that showed up was a bald-headed, barefoot man in a blue polyester leisure suit. He was smiling, calm as can be, and he had a one-sentence message for her. “Wait here for further instructions,” he said.
That was it? My friend laughed, but she was pissed. “Wait here for further instructions?” she repeated, incredulous. “That’s the best he can do?”
Later, we joked about the ridiculousness of the whole thing. The way her guide looked like some kind of a 70s self-help guru. His cryptic, frustrating message. It was almost like a trick.
Now, years later, I see clearly the deep wisdom there. My friend’s inner guidance was offering her—both of us, really—a reminder about the way things actually work. That often, for reasons we may never understand, it’s not time to know something yet. Being aligned with ourselves on a deep level means surrendering our desire to grasp, our need to know, feeling our way, and waiting until something becomes clear.
This is how intuition or inner guidance works. When we tune in, we may notice feelings or urges to take action, but also that the timing is not up to us. Sometimes the best action is to do nothing, yet. Sometimes we just have to wait—to act, or even just to get clear.
This happens with my clients all the time. Their questions are full of a need to know. Is it time to end the relationship? To leave the job? To move to a new city? The Guides often counsel patience, pointing out where they might be grasping, where they might be rushing, where there might be some learning or discernment to do first. The key is almost always to meander one’s way to the place of inner clarity, rather than to reach for it before its time.
My mom calls this kind of waiting, this state of not-knowing, “being in the hallway.” You’re just in the middle. Things are unclear, or changing, or about to, but nothing is defined. It can be pretty uncomfortable, especially in our culture where everything is supposed to happen right away, and we’re always supposed to know what we’re doing at all times.
But if we can have patience, waiting to get clear can have its own quiet sense of peace to it. Like when we’re waiting for the seasons to change. Or when we’ve planted a seed, but it hasn’t sprouted yet. Or when we feel stirrings within, but we don’t know what they’re about yet, or where they’re going to lead. It’s an in-between time, and it requires a different set of skills. The skills of faith, patience, discernment, and a willingness to stay open to what is on its way.
As channel and medium Paul Selig says, “Not knowing is the beginning of knowing.”
And as Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, in a famous passage from Letters to a Young Poet,
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything.