Impatience…can you feel it with me for a second…the small tickly feeling when you have sat at that restaurant table for hours…the far-away detached glaze when someone has been talking and talking…the unsettled, anxious knot when you want something to happen and nothing is going on.
Lately I have been noticing impatience in my life in big and small ways. Rather than glossing over it, I am tuning in. What is this feeling? What I come up with is that I get impatient when I get fixated on something in the future, and I am not allowing myself to be in the present. I have already checked out. Why do I check out? Lots of reasons. Because I do not think anything will happen right now. Because right now is uncomfortable and I want to escape it. Because I am nervous about what is going to come next and I sooth myself by mentally jumping into the future and playing it out.
But really, there is only one reason to be impatient: I am trying to lead life, instead of letting life lead me. I am trying to substitute my will for Spirit’s. I am trying to control things because I am scared to let things unfold in their own time. So when I notice myself feeling impatient now, I try and use it as an opportunity to practice self-awareness, compassion, and surrender. I notice how it feels in my body. Oh, hello impatience. Why are you here? I have compassion for the part of myself that thinks it needs to be in control or the world will fall apart. And I tell myself, “It’s okay. Let life show you around. Trust. Let go. See what happens next. It could surprise you.”
Usually this is a relief. For example, when I am rushing out of my apartment in the morning and all of a sudden I notice that I am already mentally at the office (35 miles and 45 minutes away), I can check in and slow down. I notice how my body is all tight. I use my breath to release this tension. I have compassion for the fact that I am worried about work. But then I remind myself that I’ll get there in due time, and worrying won’t speed it up. And then I give myself the pleasure of opening up to what is going on around me. Like the amazing view from my front door of the ocean. The fresh morning smell. Don’t want to miss that because I was in such a rush to get to work.
This can also work with difficult experiences, like when someone is talking when I think I “should” be doing something else. I notice that I am fighting the experience. I drop into my body, forgive myself for being so tense, forgive myself for ignoring the other person, and then relax. I am here. I do not need to go anywhere. Nothing needs to get done. The most important thing I can do right now is give this person my full, undivided attention. And really, what is more important than truly being present with someone? Once I have given myself permission to stop worrying about all these illusionary things I need to do, and remind myself of the honor it is that this person wants to share something with me, I start to actively engage in the moment again. The impatience disappears.
The one area of my life where I am having real trouble applying this right now is my job. I am in a one year position, and at the end of this year I need to decide what I want to do next. I could go back to my old position. I could go to a new job, but still work at a law firm. I could do something totally different. I am not getting any clear answers and it. is. driving. me. crazy. Even though out of all the examples I have given this is the one that allows me the most physical time, it is the one where I am least able to chill out.
So right now I am at the stage of tuning in to what is making me so uncomfortable about the whole thing. And I can see that the reason why I am so impatient about my career choice makes perfect sense. I have this underlying belief that I need to actively take control of my career and “make” things happen–the perfect remedy for impatience. This vision is given extra juice by my underlying fear of finding myself 20 or so years down the road, realizing I am not fulfilled by my job and wishing I had “done” something about it. I don’t want trust in the universe to devolve into passivity and missed opportunities. On the other hand, I do not want my desire to be active and engaged in this process to snowball into a big mass of anxious impatience that leads me to make a rash decision before the time is right. Especially when I do not have a clear vision right now of my goal.
I know that when I have patience about getting out of my apartment in the morning or listening to someone, it doesn’t mean I entirely abandon the idea of doing what I need to do next. It just means that I have a different attitude towards the pace at which it is going to happen. But for some reason, I am having more trouble trusting that an answer about my job will come to me unless I frantically worry away at it.
On the ride home tonight, I heard great advice that helps me put this situation in perspective. The speaker, Michael Neill (a life coach) said that there are two ways to use your mind. One is to solve problems. Your mind can go into the filing drawer of learned skills and accumulated information and help you out. Two plus two equals four. My brother’s name is Gabriel. You go in, you ask the question, you pull out the answer. I keep on trying to use this method on my career. Guess what? The answer is not in the drawers, no matter how many times I go back to try and figure it out.
The second way to use your mind is to access a deeper web of intelligence–sort of like surfing the internet for an answer. This is intuition. When you silence your mind and allow it to go into “internet search mode” it will come back with an answer from wisdom far greater than your conscious mind. But you have to trust the process, otherwise your little mind will be too busy frantically searching in the file drawers to hear the response when it does arise from that deeper source. This is not a passive process. You have to ask the question. You have to listen. And most importantly, you have to trust. I know this is how I am going to get my answer. Man, does it require patience in the deepest sense of the word.
To give you an example of this second kind of knowledge, here is a story about a famous Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. He was organizing the rescue of 800 Vietnamese refugees from small boats that lacked food or water off the coast of Singapore. After his activities leaked to the press, the Singapore police arrived at his apartment, took his travel documents, and ordered him to leave within 24 hours. They would not allow his boats to leave the harbor to pick up boat people. What did he do? Did he immediately gather a council to debate the answer? Did he freak out and start brainstorming possible solutions? No. He practiced walking meditation for the rest of the night. Five minutes before he was going to be expelled, with his mind calm, he received the guidance to turn to the French embassy for assistance. They intervened, and the boat people were saved. Wow. Kind of puts my job worries in perspective.
I am just really getting started on my journey of practicing patience. It is important for me to focus on making sure I practice patience in the small ways, because those help prepare me for the bigger experiences. So I will remember to check out the ocean and enjoy long conversations while I am waiting to get clarity on my career. All in its own good time.