I write this as I wait to meet a friend. I was expecting them 10 minutes ago and they’ve just called to say they’ll be here in half an hour. Despite reassuring them that it’s not a problem - because really, it isn’t a problem - I confess I initially felt twinges of impatience. I wanted them to get here quickly so that we could get on with our plans for the day. Will this 40-minute delay actually make any difference to our enjoyment of the rest of the day? No. So why did it seem to matter?
Although I was often told that “patience is a virtue,” I have struggled with impatience for most of my life. I used to be perpetually in a rush, wanting to do everything faster and more efficiently. I was always trying to save time. But a while ago I started to question why this was. What was I racing toward or away from?
One answer was that I felt like I could only relax and rest once all the “things” were done. This applied to the little things, like cleaning, as well as the bigger things, like completing my Yoga Teacher Training. Of course, this is a flawed notion as there is never a time when all the “things” are done. There’s always another task or goal or project. If I were to wait until everything was done, I’d never let myself relax. Ever. Realizing this was something of a breakthrough. It helped me to stop racing impatiently to get everything done. Gradually, I learned to let myself relax despite my incomplete to-do list.
What also made a huge difference was a yoga class I went to, where my wonderful teacher used the theme of patience. She led us in longer holds of postures and a more gradual build-up to the “full” posture than we were used to. She encouraged us just to notice when impatience arose, and observe it without judgment. (Read here for how practicing yoga in the dark can help you overcome judgment during your practice.)
I realized how often my mind was racing ahead, anxious to get through it. I wanted to get straight to the “real” posture, and then once I was in it, I was wondering what we’d do next.
My teacher spoke about how impatience tends to arise for three reasons:
- We are experiencing discomfort, so we become anxious to get out of what’s happening and on to something we hope will be more pleasurable.
- We feel bored and our minds seek more stimulation and distraction.
- Our minds are moving faster than our environment. We want the world to hurry up and keep up with the speed of our mental chatter.
All of these resonated with me. I knew if I was feeling this impatient practicing yoga, something I love, then impatience must be featuring heavily in the rest of my life, too.
But what’s the problem with impatience? Why is it that patience, and not impatience, is the virtue?
Impatience, by its very nature, means a lack of acceptance of the present moment. When we race ahead to the next thing, we stop appreciating all of the beautiful things that are happening right now. And we forget that, in fact, the present moment is all we ever have. Impatience stops us from enjoying that moment. (Learn more about staying present here.)
By practicing patience, we become calmer as we drop into whatever is happening. We cultivate greater awareness of and gratitude for the present. And we let go of our desire to control the pace of everything, surrendering to the possibility that things are unfolding exactly as they should be.
Patience also helps us to approach ourselves and others with more compassion. For example, at times we might feel impatient with ourselves for feeling down. We may wish we would just snap out of it. If, instead, we observe the feeling without judgment and give ourselves the time we need, our approach is gentler and far more likely to bring about positive change. We can apply the same patience and compassion in our approach to others. We meet them where they are and allow them the time they need, rather than insisting that our minds should set the pace.
In the case of waiting for my friend, I could easily have “wished away” the half hour, anxious for them to get here and feeling that my time had been wasted. By the time they got here, I’d have been stressed and even irritated. But, instead, I recognized that it was my time regardless of whether they were here or not. And I could wish it away or I could slow down, take a deep breath and consider what actually I wanted to do with this precious gift of time I was not expecting to have. As a result, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to sit and think and write. It wasn’t my plan for this morning, but it might just have worked out even better. When they arrive, I’ll be genuinely happy to see them, and feeling calm and collected.