You know the old adage “Patience is a virtue”? Well, it has never been one of my strengths, and it seems to run short in a lot of other people, too. Patience means things like delaying gratification or waiting one’s turn, things that aren’t in pace with our lives in a First World society. We have been conditioned to expect an immediate response, from our internet downloads to communication at work. We want it Now.
This conditioning seems to promote further impatience. If there are delays, our expectations aren’t being met and the tendency is to leap automatically to frustration. Why is this line so long? Why am I stuck in traffic? Why is it taking 4 seconds for this website to open? If I’m not present, my thoughts will carry me down this path, and my mood will quickly follow. Imagine the last time you felt impatient. Perhaps you noticed tight shoulders, a tense jaw and a pit in your stomach? These are some of the same physical symptoms we get when we’re under stress. This time, however, the stress is self-imposed.
When I am impatient, I am wishing things were different than they are. My thoughts are creating tension around something I can’t change: the present moment. This is the opposite of mindfulness, and a sure way to create distress. In my own practice (meaning real life), I am learning to be more aware of those impatient thoughts and feelings, so I can choose a different reaction. I take a couple of deep breaths, and focus my attention on the feeling of my abdomen rising and falling. I feel the earth supporting my feet or the chair cradling my back, all the sensations of this particular point in time. After all, being patient is really just being mindful of each and every moment, even the ones spent waiting in line at the post office or stuck in traffic. If I am present, there is no wish for something different, because this moment is just as it should be. And so is the next one. That is true patience.