Learning how to practice patience…

Patience

Patience

Practice patience.  That’s the inspiration card that hangs above my computer at work.  I stuck it there because I need that kind of ‘in your face’ reminder every day.  I often feel like I’m running around, trying to beat a clock somewhere only to find my patience dwindle and be replaced by an excessive supply of worry or stress.  It happens in the grocery line, it happens when I am driving home, when I’m waiting for someone, and most of all it happens within myself.  It’s that internal chatter, telling me to ‘hurry up’ and ‘do this faster’ or ‘I can’t believe how long this is taking.’

The reality is that I’m not even sure what it means to practice patience. How do you practice something you don’t even feel like you have most of the time?  I meet people who make patience look effortless.  I’m sure you know some of these folks too.  They are the people who smile at the ‘slow-talker’ who is taking forever to tell a story.  They are the ones who drive without a hint of frustration behind the guy who has changed lanes 3 times without a blinker and cut them off at least once.  They respond to a hurried apology with “Don’t worry, take your time.”  And they tell you they had to wait at the doctor’s office for over an hour without even flinching.  Who are these people and what drugs do they take to make them so damn calm and patient?

My old perception would be that these people just don’t care and have no ambition.  I would see their lack of concern as aloof and unengaged.  My newer outlook realizes that these individuals are more present than I could even comprehend.  They are totally in the moment and able to appreciate exactly what is happening versus worry about what may happen 30 minutes from now.  They have figured out how to practice patience and make it work for them. I realize that when I’m around one of these more evolved persons of patience I tend to relax more and feel more calm.  I don’t always understand it, but I can’t help but soak up their sense of peace and wonder if I will ever feel that easy about deadlines, long lines, traffic, and all the other nuances.

As I figure out this whole concept, I found a quick way to measure my patience. I just have to stop and ask myself if I am being completely present in this moment.  If I’m worrying about how long this is taking or when I’m going to be done or how fast the line is moving….I’m not able to take in what is happening right now and what it is that I’m feeling and even more, what’s really triggering that feeling and creating this sense of urgency.   Instead, I’m 3 steps ahead and robbing myself of a moment of reflection and insight.  Granted, I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about being present in the grocery line as the lady in front of me piles up her 30 items in the clearly marked “express lane” but I’m starting to lean in to this idea that if I’m there, I should be present. I’m going to try this out for a while and see what happens.  Lucky me, I have plenty of opportunities to practice!

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Pause. Breathe. Repeat.

I have a dear friend Ann who lives in another state and I try to see her as often as possible.  Her husband, Jim, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago .  During one visit, I had planned a surprise birthday party for Ann and managed to get most of the family there for the big party.  At one point, Jim came up to me and said, “Well, it’s finally happening.  This is it.  I think I’m going to die now.” This alarmed me quite a bit and I said, “Oh, no.  What makes you say that?”  He responded, “Because everyone I’ve ever loved is here tonight and visiting me.  I’ve seen everyone now and been able to tell them how I feel.  That must mean that it is okay for me to go.”  I remember feeling sad that he interpreted this event as a sign from above that it was his time to go and then feeling angry about the illness that was robbing him of his faculties.  But it wasn’t until later that something clicked for me about that moment. It wasn’t his illness that was creating an irrational thought process about his death.  It was the fact that he, like so many of us, get caught up in our lives and it’s only when something tragic or life changing happens that we truly pause and finally cue ourselves to be completely present with the things that matter most.  People.  Connections.  And our relationships and feelings with those people.  His illness had provided a gift of presence that most of us gloss over each day.  So now, I affectionately call moment’s when I’m acutely aware of the blessings and fortune in my life, a “Jim” moment.  Because I think, “Life is alright.  I’m alright.  I’m safe and the people who love me are here.  This is peace.”

I spend more time in a state of anxiety, worry, or otherwise feeling overwhelmed much more than I would like to admit.  And it becomes too clear when, out of the blue, I have a “Jim” moment.  I can’t help but reflect on a couple of these moments that happened just this week.  The first one happened on my way home as I was talking with my Mom and the second was after spending a laughter filled evening with two of my close friends.

In each of those instances I was able to share how I was feeling, what my worries and fears were about and, in turn, receive love and support. With my Mom it was more of an emotional purging and she responded with love and understanding that sometimes can only come from your Mom.  I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude for her support.  With my friends, it was more about the pure acceptance of me that brought so much joy to my heart. They receive me exactly as I am without judgment.  I am able to speak my heart and not worry they are going to look at me like I’m crazy.  Okay, they still may look at me like I’m crazy but we laugh while they are doing it! They remind me what true friendship really looks like.

Unfortunately, it’s easy for me not to be present in my own life.  I often start thinking about some task that I haven’t done yet or some schedule issue that I need to resolve.  I worry about things way outside my control or get caught up in some downward spiral of negative thinking.  But the wild thing is that when I’m present and totally engaged in a moment with someone I feel more alive and true to myself than any other time. My heart fills with joy and it is almost like I’m receiving some miracle drug of sorts that makes whatever current challenge or fear seem more bearable.

I notice that as I take better care of myself and express my true feelings, I have more of the “Jim” moments and become aware of how grateful I am to have people in my life that mean so much to me.  When I am fully present in my daily interactions I am more open to embracing and expressing gratitude.  It is happening more with my family, my friends, with my work, and especially within myself. I hope that I will continue to get better at recognizing and cherishing these moments until one day it is simply the natural state that I exist.  Until then, I will use the simple and effective strategy to increase my awareness…it takes 3 steps: pause, breathe, repeat.