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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Practicing Patience

In my last post, ("Ermine Tales"), I wrote about taking quiet time to observe, and the benefits of being patient. If you came away from that thinking I'm some kind of guru of quiet and patience, guess again.

I enjoy observing nature and wildlife, so I have almost endless patience for that. I tend to be very patient with people, too: my family, friends, students, acquaintances, and pretty much everyone I interact with on a daily basis. I understand that most folks are trying to do the best they can in life, but that it's not always easy and we all struggle.

But I do have my impatient moments. Most of us do.

What pushes my impatience button? Situations or processes that I perceive of as important, that I have no control over, and that (in my mind, anyway) are taking longer to resolve than they should. They're just a part of life, but they can get under my skin if I let them. I think of this type of impatience as "process impatience." Maybe these situations are God's way of giving me ample opportunities to become a calmer, more accepting person :-)  Or maybe they are Spirit's way of teaching me how to let go of those things that aren't really important.

What kinds of situations have tweaked my process impatience button in the past?

  • During job searches when I've applied for positions that seem like a great fit for me, but I haven't heard anything back in a couple of weeks
  • When I've submitted a manuscript to designers for review, and haven't heard a peep out of them in several days
  • A painting that I'm working on is taking longer than I expected and it's supposed to be in a show whose deadline is looming

What's the common theme?

A process or situation is taking longer than I think it should. Yep, pretty self-focused isn't it? It's that very-human trap of thinking that everything is all about me.

Any kind of impatience stresses our bodies and minds, and it sure doesn't help us along the path toward being a more loving, accepting, spiritual person, either. Not that I'm even close to that. But hey, I'm trying.

In a very negative way, when we're impatient, we're stuck on our own, rigid idea of what we want for the future, in the time we've decided is right. Thinking about what we want for ourselves in the future is a good thing. Forward-thinking, such as making goals and planning ahead, allows us to achieve some pretty cool things. But we're too attached to a particular outcome, we become more closed, intolerant, rigid, and maybe even angry if things don't work out exactly the way we want, or in the time we think is right..

Plus, having rigid attachments might close us off from something even better that Spirit is trying to send our way. We don't even see that better option from God because we're so fixated on our own. It can be like wearing blinders -- we don't notice anything except what's right in front of us. That's OK if you're a thoroughbred in the biggest stakes race of the year, but doesn't work so well if you're a person trying to live an inspired, incredible life.

We all feel impatient occasionally, so how do we deal with it?

I've learned that patience is a practice, a habit that I reinforce through repetition hoping that it will get easier over time. These are a few things I do when something tweaks my process impatience:
  1. Take some deep breaths and realize that I have limited or no control over the situation. It's probably not about me.* This hearkens back to what I learned in Heaven about letting go of the need to control everything. Once I've taken some deep breaths and settled down, then I....
  2. Wait 24 or 48, if possible: I chill out, find something else to do, and give the situation some time to resolve itself before taking action. If a situation absolutely needs to be resolved now, then I make a plan and take action (see step 3). But most things can wait. Waiting another 24 to 48 hours can work wonders! I make a note on my calendar for a couple of days out to check on the status of the situation. In the meantime, I'll go back to living my life. But I'm amazed at how often the situation resolves itself on its own in that next day or two. I hear something about the job; the person I was waiting to hear from gets a chance to phone me; the art show deadline gets moved out another week.
  3. If it hasn't resolved on its own in that 24 to 48 hours, I devise a respectful plan to address the situation. Should I give the situation a bit more time? Is it time to simply make a decision? Do I send a respectful email asking for an update? Should I make a polite phone call to check on status? Is it time to "give up" on trying to force an outcome and just ask God for help? Through all of this, I keep in mind that my impatience is not about a specific person, it's about a process.* 
  4. Only then, after I've had a chance to devise a plan, will I take action.
For me, implementing Step 2 has made all the difference. Taking 24 or 48 hours to chill means that I let go, and allow the situation to resolve on its own. Or maybe Spirit resolves the situation for me. Either way, it doesn't matter. My stress level goes down and I turn my attention to other things happening in my life.

I'll continue on the themes of patience, impatience, and letting go in my next posts.

*don Miguel Ruiz writes beautifully about this concept in The Four Agreements. If you haven't read it, it's worth a read. The book is little but contains a ton of wonderful ideas for letting go of thoughts and ideas that tend to bring us down. The book itself is more philosophical than religious; it's equally applicable whether you're Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, agnostic, etc.

All content copyright Nancy Rynes, 2015. Please read disclaimer and Legal Notes here.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Ermine Tales

It's late January and I'm in the parking area of a Nordic ski center in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It's been a tough but exhilarating three hours on the trails. My skills on cross-country skis are still coming back after taking last season off, and I'm struggling with my endurance.

Ermine (left, center) running across the snow

Bone tired, I pause near the passenger seat of my SUV to remove my ski boots. Right foot, then left, my fingers sore from poling, it takes me twice as long as usual to swap shoes. Success! Once my feet are out of the ski boots and into sneakers, my cramped feet relax again.

As I tie the laces of my shoes, I notice something white flashing across the rocks in front of me. A retaining wall rises about 35 feet from the parking lot to the subdivision above. Big boulders, some the size of a small car, provide nooks and crannies for little critters like rabbits,  mice, and weasels to hide.

Another flash of white.


She pauses on top of the snow bank a bare three feet in front of me. Her obsidian-dark eyes miss nothing, nor does her sharp sense of smell. Whiskers twitch.

In a flash, she's down into a crevice between the rocks. I reach inside the SUV for a camera. It's not my wildlife camera with its huge, fast lens, but just a simple point-and-shoot. It will have to do.

I quietly walk to the front of the SUV and lean back against its hood, then wait. I know I'm not going to get any award-winning photos with this little camera, but I know it'll be fun to try. What I really want to do today is simply observe her, immerse myself in her world for a while.

Her white head pops up again, just a foot or so from the last spot. I try to snap a picture but she's gone before I can even start up the camera. I marvel at her quickness and decisiveness. She appears to be quite deliberate in her search among the rocks. My guess is that she's looking for lunch. She pops her head up for a moment, pauses briefly, then dives back down into the rocks a split second later.


Ermine are ferocious hunters. Mice, voles, small birds, and even rabbits flee at the sight of a weasel. These little predators weigh almost nothing -- a squirrel is almost double the size of this little, white-cloaked beauty -- but the squirrel's size doesn't keep it safe. Ermine can take down surprisingly large prey, including squirrels. If an ermine were the size of a Labrador Retriever, I suspect even a mountain lion would give it a wide berth.

I've never seen an ermine before, let alone had one allow me to be part of her world for over an hour like this one. I watch her hunt the full height and width of this retaining wall. She's in and out of the rocks like a shot, then bounding quickly over the open snow. I sense her need to move quickly. Weasels themselves can be prey for hawks and eagles.

Too fast! Ermine disappearing off-camera

I know I'm not getting the photos I want with this little camera, but it doesn't matter. I'm grateful and happy simply to let the experience unfold and to allow her to carry me away from my human world for a time.

Other skiers come and go while I watch the ermine. Maybe people wonder why I'm standing in the parking lot in ski gear, paying rapt attention to a snowbank. A car drives by on the road, its windows open and spewing heavy metal music for all to hear. I turn back to watch the ermine, being content to stand still and observe another world.

A calmness settled over me this past hour as I watched her hunt. The time felt like a meditation. I also see again that what I learned during my near-death experience holds true.

Stillness and patience can help us see what's hidden. A quiet mind can bring insights unreachable to us during the stress and drama of daily life. And there is more to this Earth than just us. Life abounds all around us, and in many forms. Quietly observing that life can put us in touch with something in our own hearts and souls that we can't find any other way.

All content copyright Nancy Rynes, 2015. Please read disclaimer and Legal Notes here.