wait for it... wait for it...
Confidence is not a belief that we will prevail over a difficult situation; it’s trust in how things are unfolding. Stillness is not holding ourselves in check; it’s relaxing softly. And patience is not waiting in anticipation; it’s comfort being with things as they are.
— Doug Kraft, Buddha’s Map
As a child, sitting in a booth at a restaurant, waiting for the food to come was both excitement and torture. When will it get here? Is it going to be as tasty as I think it will?
As a teenager, standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for the people in front to finish felt like it took absolutely forever. Why can’t the checker scan faster? Why did the woman with a full cart get in the 15 items or less line?
As an adult, checking email for the seventh time that day, waiting for a response to an important message seemed to make the minutes tick by at a snail’s pace. Are they going to accept my proposal? Did my email even go through?
A lot of times, we associate patience with restraint; holding back and not giving in to the urge to follow up on something, to act on something, to do something. The tension percolates, filling our bodies with emotion and thought, priming our muscles to act.
We are playing tug-of-war with time and only wearing ourselves out.
A lot of times, when we look at someone and see patience what we are seeing is on the outside. We can’t see the turbulence inside. But we can feel it in ourselves. And we can know that this is not truly patience.
Perhaps we should blame our language: the word patience comes from the Latin patior which means “to suffer or endure”. Patience should not be suffering or grimly enduring a trial. Yet that is how many people still experience it.
Patience is also not averting the gaze; the physical or the mental. Looking away from something, ignoring it so that we don’t feel like we’re waiting for it, is escapism not patience.
So, what is patience? What should it be? How can we be patient comfortably without the suffering?
Perhaps we can start by looking at impatience. That sharp, bubbling, itchy, vibrating feeling that spreads from the diaphragm to the heart; quickens the breath; flushes the face; and makes the legs and arms want to move. All of this starts with tightness in the mind and tightness in the chest.
Tightness in the mind is the first part. When we anticipate, we cast ourselves forward into the future; we attempt to prognosticate but we get stuck: we can’t know what the future holds but we have a guess and want to know if we’re right. We need resolution. But that resolution is still lingering in the future, so we grasp onto it and try to bring it toward us. Of course, we can’t really speed up time and ironically, waiting for something with this sort of anticipation usually makes time seem to move more slowly!
We are at a standstill: the future is stubbornly refusing to become the present and we are stubbornly refusing to allow it to remain the future. We are playing tug-of-war with time and only wearing ourselves out.
The second part is the body’s reaction. We want to act on the news we will receive when the future becomes the present but it’s not happening. Our body is prepared… and remains prepared… and is still prepared… our body is not happy when it’s tensed to spring for so long. Cortisol and adrenaline are coursing through our veins, pumping up our muscles and slowing our perception of time… oh. Well. That’s unfortunate.
What can we do with all this pent-up energy? Some of us pace to try to get rid of it; I’m a pacer. But this doesn’t solve the problem. The body is reacting to the mind. We’re back to square one, and square one is seemingly unhelpfully labeled Relax.
You can’t force yourself to relax. It should be apparent that forcing relaxation is a contradiction of terms. But what you can do is help your mind let go. Pointedly relaxing muscles in the head and mentally releasing the anticipated circumstance, and maybe letting out that breath you didn’t realize you were holding… this is how you develop patience.
With practice, comfort reigns. You can’t be in the future, not until it decides to become the present. Thinking in circles about what might happen is physiologically ruinous.
“Be here, now” is pretty cliché by this point but that’s what this all comes down to.
How do I be more patient? Don’t stretch, don’t reach, don’t cling to the future.
How do I enjoy being patient? Revel in the unfolding present, watch the approaching future, be edified by the sealed past.
And maybe do something physically active to flush those spastic hormones.