Patience does not come easy to me.
I’m a sales professional for a consulting firm and avid marathoner: two worlds where success is equated to time and every number counts. A million dollars loses its value if it’s earned over two years instead of one; 26.2 miles ran in two hours versus three separates the Olympian from the simply elite athlete.
Fortunately, I’m also passionate about meditation, an action that transcends time and grows intimacy with the virtue of patience. The relationship between meditation and patience contains a generative power that I want to share in this post.
As technology and culture continues to fuse, our need to wait for what we want plummets.
Our mobile devices have become veritable digital menus to order whatever it is delivered right to us, from home appliances to direct video coverage of a natural disaster occurring thousands of miles away. I can imagine to today’s younger generation, cultivating patience can seem curiously antiquated, or worse, blind and backwards.
Particularly when our world is so clearly desperate for change, I can identify with even the notion of patience as akin to “giving up”. After all, if I deploy tremendousaction, I expect to see results! By nature I’m a fighter so the word “patience” can carry for me a dreaded air of resignation.
But this is all mostly a superficial knee jerk reaction to what patience connotes rather than the truth of what it is.
Patience is Not Passive
There’s a quote by the 18th century English author and poet Edward Bulwer-Lytton that’s been blowing my mind: “Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active; it is concentrated strength”.
Recently, I’ve had to confront this deeper meaning of patience.
In the next few weeks leading up to my 42nd birthday in November, I will be embarking on a potentially life-changing shamanic retreat, traveling for almost two weeks of business meetings on the West Coast, visiting my wife’s family in Florida, undergoing eye surgery to correct my nearsightedness, and preparing to begin a year of intensive holistic marathon training.
And this is in concert to my wife and I raising our two-year-old son and all the entailed responsibilities of our household.
Each of these activities has special meaning to me; something I love to do or have never done and look forward to experiencing. All of these activities are opportunities I have chosen to advance me towards my longer-range goals. They are important to me.
I thought I would feel charged with excitement and vigor because of the short timeline these were compressed in. After all, I was being productive and taking massive action towards my greater vision!
However, instead of feeling thrilled and energized, I felt quiet and empty, like walking through a vast and lonely desert. What became clear is that any activity, no matter how personally significant or monumental, is composed of a current of consecutive smaller single actions.
For example, I am in the process of getting eye surgery that would free me from the acute nearsightedness I’ve had since I was a little boy; it’s a life-changer. But it doesn’t happen in an instant.
I had to research and select a surgeon. I had to ride the euphoria of my imagined expectations and hang in there as my due diligence began to reveal the enormous risk I was taking with a certain surgical approach I chose. I had to research more surgeons. I had to take off work to travel to clinics and make sure I got back in time for my wife and son. I had to plan the financials. Etc.
I was in a rowboat paddling my way through an ocean of choices and to-dos, most of them mundane, which filled up the sprawling gulf of these next few weeks. I didn’t feel overwhelmed. I felt bored and that confused me. How could I feel bored in the midst of so much activity that was important to me?
As I examined the boredom, I found underneath was a kind of existential malaise. While I was doing “everything” I wanted, it’s only possible to do one thing at a time. Often, it’s a small thing. That small thing has an echo of the greater thing you actually want. And you can’t “have” it as an object, something you can put in your pocket or on your shelf (even though you always imagine you can).
Inner Silence Creates Wholeness
It was only when I meditated that I found relief. The space of meditation could embrace this ocean of small things and make it one. In the stillness I could be with it all. Inner silence inherently creates wholeness.
The deeper meaning of patience began to unfurl in me. I was grateful for how an action as simple as sitting quietly can let you touch the universe.
I realized that in the complex multitudes of choices I needed to make, meaningful to uneventful, my self-awareness is the singular constant that ties them together. And that’s where patience comes in.
Patience is Action
Patience is not about waiting for something to happen. It’s about becoming more and more in tune with the depth of your life’s unfolding.
There’s so much happening in your experience that your mind can’t contain it all. But as it takes effort to pay greater attention and commitment to your life, it also gives you strength. Our most inspired thoughts and motivations cannot come to fruition if we abandon them too easily. It is like pulling up a seedling before it’s had a chance to grow.
Patience is about letting our life take root so we can reach our heights.