The Trouble with Patience

In a recent conversation with my very funny, very talented and very accomplished sister, we were talking about the supposedly spiritual virtue of patience. My sister is a focused, organized, can-do kind of person. She declared with great conviction, and with a twinkle in her eye, “I don’t have time for patience.”

There was the briefest of pauses as we both digested what she had just said. And then we dissolved into laughter. It was just so delightfully contradictory…so unexpected…so funny…and seemingly so true.
I suspect a lot of people secretly feel they don’t have time for patience. And that’s the trouble with patience: it seems to require the very thing – time – that is often felt to be in short supply. Who has time for patience when so much needs to be done?

And then there is the patience of waiting for something you really, really want that seems to be taking a really, really long time to manifest. You want it and you want it now. Being patient feels like being resigned to never having it. It’s always somewhere out in the distant future, and the present seems drab and lifeless by comparison. It’s almost as if the patience itself is pushing what you want further and further away from you.

Yet being patient is considered a hallmark of wisdom and maturity. Many people feel almost obligated to develop it. They try to slow down and resign themselves to not having what they want. They take deep breaths. They remind themselves that patience is a virtue. They chew their food mindfully in an attempt to practice present moment awareness. They try not to focus on the fact that what they want isn’t here.

And underneath it all, they’re feeling impatient. In trying so hard to cultivate patience, they’ve unwittingly conjured its opposite. They’ve developed a full-blown case of impatience. (Which, by the way, isn’t always a bad thing. Impatience can give us the fuel we need to take action or change direction. But that’s a subject for another time…)

I’ve been frustrated more than once by the circus wheel of patience/impatience, as have many of my friends and clients. In navigating through those experiences I’ve learned that the way we’ve interpreted “being patient” is what gets us in trouble. Patience is not about waiting. It’s not about resignation. It’s not about hoping things will get better someday. It’s not even, necessarily, about slowing down. It has nothing to do with action or inaction; it is a state of being.

Patience is, fundamentally, about trust in a supremely intelligent and loving universe. It’s about understanding that the creative process ebbs and flows, and that both aspects of the cycle are essential to the outcome. It’s about expanding your awareness to see the biggest picture you can. It’s about recognizing that good things are already here and that good things will continue to flow into your life.

Patience is about giving things space, giving them room to root and breathe and flourish. Patience doesn’t ask you to give up on what you want; it asks you to nurture it as deeply and creatively and completely as you can. Sometimes being patient means taking the next step in front of you to take, and then the next, and the next. Sometimes it means recognizing that you’re pushing too hard and need to slow down. Always it means finding ways to enjoy the life you’re currently in.

Patience asks you to recognize that, as someone who is continually growing and evolving, you will never be “finished.” You will never get everything done that you imagine needs to get done. You will never manifest every single one of your desires. Patience is about focusing on quality of experience rather than amassing a huge quantity of things or accomplishments. It’s about the privilege you have to determine your true priorities and make choices that honor them.

And that’s why true patience, rather than the weary, watered-down version you may have adopted, is a virtue. Patience honors Life and its natural rhythms, and it honors both your worthiness and your right to participate in Life in a way that is meaningful to you.

So don’t force yourself to slow down, relinquish your dreams and resign yourself to things the way they are in the hope of cultivating patience. Instead, intend to fully acknowledge and enjoy all the good in your life. Give your dreams more air time. Pay closer attention to your own feelings and insights and impulses. Discover your own natural, creative rhythm. Slow down when you’re depleted and tired, take action when you’re willing or inspired. Notice if you’re making choices from fear or from love.

Choose love. Choose delight. Choose authenticity. Choose peace.

You’ll be patient without even trying. And you’ll have all the time you need.

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