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.

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