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A snail's journey

“O snail, climb Mount Fuji/ But slowly, slowly,” the haiku master Issa writes. Some might call that a Japanese version of the fourth step of humility: Endure the pain of development and do not give up. Psychology might call it a recognition of the place of patience in life. The monastic might see it as a call to the virtue of endurance. But if endurance is such a universal part of life, what is the human question that drives it?

The haiku, in its short, sharp way makes three points:

In the first place, there are great important things to do in life however small, however frail we feel, however stacked the odds are against us.

And yet, at the same time, there is more to life than speed. What’s the use of speed? The mountain is not going to go anywhere as we climb it. Conditions might well change as we go and demand a revision of both our plans and our schedule.

Finally, of course, the difficulties involved in the project must be confronted head-on, but it’s unlikely that they can be resolved immediately. After all, a mountain is a mountain with everything that has to say about what can be learned as we climb and everything that will need to be endured as we go.

Obviously, what is needed for the long haul is not heedlessness or a series of senseless attempts as we get more and more tired, more and more frustrated, more and more stressed. What is needed is patience.

It takes patience to come to know God. We must give ourselves a lifetime to do it.

It takes patience to appreciate every stage of the climb—the hard beginning, the lofty but unreal schedule, and most of all, the wearying repetition of the process. We must be willing to immerse ourselves in each of them.

It takes patience to overcome the impulse to frustration, the kind that comes from demanding from ourselves instantaneous results.

The snail’s journey is clearly, like the fourth step of humility, a call to live life with a quiet mind. Then, like the psalmist, we can “wait in patience for God’s promise is forever” to help us do what must be done in us.

     —from The Radical Spirit: 12 Ways to Live a Free and Authentic Life by Joan Chittister