You Can Think, You Can Wait, You Can Fast

Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha is the story of a young Indian man seeking enlightenment. Having failed to find it with his high-status, Brahman father, the ascetics, and even the Buddha himself, he decides to take a different approach: live life to the fullest and experience everything there is to experience.

He asks a courtesan to teach him the art of love, and she demands he start working for a local merchant first. In exchange for his future wealth, she will mentor him. When Siddhartha applies for a job with the merchant, he is asked what he can do, which, as a man who renounced all possessions, isn’t much — and yet, it is everything he needs: “I can think. I can wait. I can fast,” Siddhartha replies.

Unlike everyone else begging the merchant for employment, Siddhartha can afford to go hungry. He needn’t take up a bad role because he can do without a job altogether. He can also come back the next day, and the next day, and the next day. Sooner or later, the merchant might need him. And during all that fasting and waiting, he can think of better ways to go forward.

Again and again, Siddhartha will be presented with challenges throughout the book, and each time, his solutions go back to this most simple triplet of skills. Everything else eventually follows.

Nowadays, when I want to do too many things in a day, feel frustrated with a task, or can’t get the results I’m hoping for fast enough, I remind myself: “I can think. I can wait. I can fast.” Usually, it’s the waiting and the fasting I need more so than the thinking, but the line inevitably helps.

Your code doesn’t need to work the first time. It’s okay if your package only arrives in a week. And you don’t have to get 1,000 followers off your first tweet. You can think. You can wait. You can fast. Inside you are endless ideas, infinite patience, and an incredible power to persist — and all you need to access these wonders is to remember that you have them.

When unwavering resolve meets a fickle reality, sooner or later, the world adjusts in your favor. The trick is to make “later” feel like “sooner.” That’s the type of magic Siddhartha can teach us — and it’s the only kind we need.