Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Practicing Patience

Some wise soul said “Patience is a virtue” and after years of deliberate practice it is now abundantly clear to me why. In our super-fast, win-or-die goal-oriented Western culture we so easily forget that life is a journey, rather than a competition or race toward some end prize. The true prizes are to be found along the way, but if we’re caught up in a cyclone of “busyness” it’s hard to really see and receive the wisdom and joy to be gleaned along the way.

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity for me. Stuff we can all relate to: balancing multiple professional projects each with multiple priorities and deadlines, attending family engagements, appointments and client meetings and of course the regular day-to-day stuff like gardening, juicing, housekeeping, exercising and grocery getting. As my schedule and head-space has been more packed than ever it’s been interesting to notice the calm and centered-ness with which I’ve been navigating it all. Several times I’ve found myself marveling at the lack of stress I’m feeling while living so…fully. This is something very new for me!

Opportunities to practice patience have popped up like wildflowers and I am deeply grateful for these chances to drop into a more mindful and conscious space. My inclination is to urge forward – to get somewhere, to the conclusion or ultimate (desired) outcome of a situation. Instead I’m practicing patience, consciously slowing down and entering more of an observant and curious space.

Our culture tells us we need to be faster but in reality, as psychologists, holistic health care practitioners and our own experience tells us: we really need to slow down, not speed up. With this perspective, rather than approaching the details that arise as obstacles or problems to solve on the road to getting there, I realize that I am already exactly where I need to be in this moment, and to live in or for the future shortchanges my experience of life as I am being given it, in this very moment.

Yes part of me wants the answers now; the automatic thought is how will it all unfold, will it all unfold as I want it to? Part of me doesn’t want to slog through the sometimes perilous, sometimes dull details of getting to the place of unfolding – there’s often a lot of waiting involved.  So my practice is to slow down, relax, be fully present in whatever aspect of the journey I find myself in and simply take it from there.

So what does this practice of patience look like? When I get all spun up on wanting answers, wanting to get through whatever situation I am in, there’s a moment of pause to remember. I begin breathing deeply and observing my thoughts and the sensations in my body. I use this simple reminder: I am exactly where I need to be in this moment, and then ask myself, What is to be learned or simply experienced here in this moment or during this process? 

This not only makes waiting a joyful rather than frustrating experience, it allows me to be more flexible and to see opportunities that I would not have had I been just doggedly aiming for the finish line and regarding the stones that make up the path as mere stones. While I may find myself joyfully celebrating the fruition of my desired outcome or in a different outcome than initially set out toward, either way by practicing patience I’ve collected many jewels along the way so no matter how it all unfolds I’ve gleaned the riches of my experience.

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