“Patience is the companion of wisdom.”
— Saint Augustine, early Christian theologian and philosopher
“Just a minute,” said Jerry. “I need to respond to a post.”
“Something important?” I asked, leaning back in my chair.
“Maybe,” he replied. “It’s someone asking for a quote.”
I watched as Jerry perused the message on his smartphone.
“At 9:30 at night?” I glanced at my watch. “Kind of late, isn’t it?”
“Naw, this is pretty common,” replied Jerry. “I get posts at all hours.”
I watched Jerry double-thumb a quick text message, proof it and then hit send.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “Can’t you send them a response in the morning?”
“Today’s consumer expects immediate response. In the morning might be too late.”
Before I could say another word, Jerry’s phone chirped again, demanding attention.
“Just a minute,” he said. “He’s responded and he wants some more information.”
As I sat there waiting for Jerry’s texting adventures to conclude, I began to wonder about the art of patience and whether or not it was still a virtue in our modern world. I wondered too if our willingness to do business at all hours wasn’t fuelling some rather unrealistic expectations.
I have heard patience described as the ability to sit back and wait for an expected outcome without experiencing anxiety, tension or frustration or, at least, without letting anxiety, tension and frustration overwhelm us. It’s easy to become impatient. We get impatient when the Internet fails to load quickly enough or when a business doesn’t provide free Wi-Fi. We get impatient when a driver on the highway is going the speed limit. We become impatient when the lineup at the grocery store or gas station isn’t moving along as quickly as we think it should be.
A virtue, yes but to me patience is also a powerful life skill that can tremendously reduce stress and tension. Mastering patience can help make life more enjoyable. Without patience, we become irritable, feel victimized and even outraged – self-defeating reactions that alienate others and bring out the worst in them and ourselves. Without patience there is only chaos.
In recent years, patience has gotten a bad rap. Think of the last time someone asked you to be patient. Did the suggestion feel unreasonable and inhibiting — an unfair halting of your goals and aspirations? Frustration — by definition — is a feeling of agitation and intolerance triggered when needs are not met or when gratification must be delayed. As with Jerry’s clientele, we’ve become much too used to immediate results. Without patience, everything seems to stand in our way — even friends and family. But with patience, we are able step back and regroup instead of impulsively or aggressively reacting, being constantly on the defensive.
Wallowing in frustration leads to endless dissatisfaction, placing us at odds with life. Frustration kills humour, love and joy. It can even lead to procrastination or an unplugging from the challenges and opportunities life has to offer. Frustration is not the key to any door. To me, patience is not passivity nor is it resignation. Patience doesn’t make you a doormat or unable to set boundaries with people. Rather, just the opposite is true. To me, patience is a powerful component of healthy self-esteem. Perhaps the biggest difference between patience and frustration is that frustration focuses on externals while patience is a drawing inward toward a greater wisdom. Patience give you time to ponder and grasp the situation to get a larger, more expansive viewpoint in order to determine right and appropriate action.
It is an exercise in self-awareness comprised of waiting, watching and knowing when it is appropriate to act – and then, when it time is right – acting with courage and confidence. When we remain open and accepting of all that is unfolding around us we are practising patience. Judith Orloff is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and UCLA and author of Emotional Freedom. Orloff is an expert on patience and defines it as an active state. According to Orloff, patience means waiting your turn and knowing intuitively that your turn will come.
“With patience,” explains Orloff, “you’re able to delay gratification, but doing so will make sense and feel right. Why? (Because) intuition intelligently informs patience. It’ll convey when to have it and if something is worth working on or waiting for.” Orloff claims that her secret to breakthrough healing is enormous patience. “Anything less would impede healing.”
To practise patience, try this exercise from Orloff’s book. Find a long, slow-moving line — perhaps in the grocery store, bank or gas station. Now here’s the switch: instead of getting irritated or pushy, which taxes your system with a rush of stress hormones, take a breath. Tell yourself, “I’m going to wait peacefully and enjoy the pause.” Meanwhile, try to empathize with the overwrought cashier or harried employees. Smile and say a few nice words to the other beleaguered people in line. Use the time to daydream — to take a mental vacation from work or other obligations. Notice the stress release you feel and how your body relaxes. “Lines are an excellent testing ground for patience,” says Orloff who suggests we think of life as a practice stage. “To strengthen this asset, I highly recommend standing in as many (lines) as possible.”
Practising patience will help you dissipate stress and give you a choice about how you respond — rather than react — to disappointment and frustration. When you can stay calm, centred and refuse to be drawn in the clutches of frustration, all areas of your life will improve.
“If we are facing in the right direction,” declared the Buddha, “all we have to do is keep walking.”
In my self-esteem practise, I prefer to think of patience as a meditation. Patience helps me bridge a gap between myself and others. It helps me to grow in my awareness and build empathy with others. Develop patience in your immediate world and you can apply it to anything.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.