Lately I’ve been thinking about the traditional Quaker phrase, “Proceed as way opens.”
Proceed as way opens or As way opens, is an encouragement to live with a kind of intentionality and willingness to “be” with a question or decision rather that jump to a rash action out of panic or pressure. This idea goes counter to our culture that lifts up quick, decisive decision making as strong and desirable. But with the concept of As way opens, even though there are occasions when decisions are time sensitive, there can still be a pause, a way of checking in with our heart and your own deep knowing. For me the phrase points toward experiencing time as something holy, something that can be expanded with presence. In that pause I can better sense when something feels deep down right or paying attention and asking good questions when something doesn’t feel right. Opening up to the concept of pause is not a call to passivity, but rather it is a pull to actively check in with my heart. Sometimes the hardest thing is not to jump to “doing” or fixing, but to consciously “be” with the question, to allow time to sit with what is unclear, uncertain or uncomfortable. Music is dynamic in its use of silence and sound. Without pausing music would be chaos and cacophony. In music, and I believe in life, pausing is active and has an important purpose. That’s why I have really appreciated the practice behind the phrase “as way opens.”
Opening up to the concept of pause is not a call to passivity, but rather it is a pull to actively check in with my heart.
I remember about mid way in my music career, I felt pretty beat up by the business of music. I decided to go back to graduate school to study theology and psychology. I applied to a highly regarded seminary and was accepted into the program. Instead of jumping right into classes, I arranged for a year to pass before courses would begin. I spent that year exploring why I do music and what music can contribute. I did a benefit album that got a lot of blow back, and a couple of projects that were deliberately focused on music as service, a vehicle for healing and an expression of spiritual experience. At the end of the year, going to graduate school just didn’t feel right, the way had not opened. I didn’t know what the way forward would exactly look like, but I had a better sense of how to lean more intentionally into what music and creating art was about for me. I’m grateful that I gave that decision a year, and it marked a shift. Way did not open, and so I did not continue on that path. Parker J. Palmer related a story in his wonderful book Let Your Life Speak, which is about an elder Quaker woman who explained to him at an important time, “An open door and a closed door are the same thing. They both send you in a direction.” Proceeding as way opens means that life has a holy rhythm. Yes the planet is heating up and terrible injustice and wars are happening, democracy is in peril. But when I allow myself the pause then I can move forward grounded in what I love and not what I fear. I’ve also known that when I have jumped into a decision that I knew deep down wasn’t setting right, but was compelled to move out of fear or panic, impatience or ego, it has never really gone all that well. It’s a simple phrase as way opens. But it’s not always so simple to live out. But the wisdom of the inner pause has been pretty consistent.
But when I allow myself the pause then I can move forward grounded in what I love and not what I fear.
What does the phrase “as way opens” bring up for you? Do you have a story when pausing to listen to your heart changed the outcome in a positive way?
This essay has been republished with kind permission of the author.
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