Watching & Waiting

The third line of St. Romuald’s Brief Rule is: “Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish.” So far the advice has been: sit in your cell, put the world behind you and forget it, and now: watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish.

I’m not sure what kind of fisherman the saint was but I can tell you, as someone who loves fly-fishing and is NOT very good at it, reading the water and watching for fish is incredibly tricky business. When I go fishing the first thing I notice is how excited I am to get to the water. I put on my waders, my boots, my vest, put my rod together, get the reel and line situated, and then I tromp through the woods toward the river. My heart is racing! I’m excited: I get to go fishing. And then I get to the water. I’ve learned, after years of frustration, to not just wade in and toss a fly. I’ve now learned I need to calm myself and read the water – I call it ‘trout mind’- as I imagine “if I were a fish, where would I be?” Sometimes you are blessed to see the trout rising, a small boil in still water. Other times you just have to trust, and cast your fly in a riffle, hoping for the best. All I can say for sure is: watching for fish is tricky and difficult business and rarely do you every see or catch the one you hope to.

In my translation of St. Romuald’s Brief Rule this third line reads: “Watch your thoughts like a seasoned gardener waiting to pluck a tomato just ripe on the vine.” I’m not sure it captures the essence of the original line above, on the elusiveness of a ‘good thought’. What I like about it though is the invitation for patience and attentiveness and a belief that good thoughts can grow within if we tend them and let them alone long enough to ripen. The image that came to me was of an elderly woman decked out in gardening gloves, a big brimmed hat, whistling her way through her greenhouse over to the tomato plants. She is thinking to herself, ‘a fresh salad sounds lovely’ as she reaches for the tomato. But something makes her stop. An awareness. A sense. A whisper: not yet. She looks deeply and sees, really sees, the tomato on the vine, and with a smile on her face, and a song on her lips, she lets it be. So whether it is developing ‘trout mind’ or the wisdom to leave the tomato on the vine, the Rule invites us all to be attentive to the elusiveness of good thoughts and the need to cultivate wisdom and skill and patience in order to be fed and to feed others.

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