Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active; it is concentrated strength.
— Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton
How many times a day do you check your email? I don’t even want to ask myself that question.
I don’t want to know because I’m pretty sure I have a little bit of an addiction there or at least resistance to the patience it would take to wait until the end of the day to receive any mail I didn’t receive that morning.
I believe this is a troubling phenomenon in our modern world and that we may be losing our affinity for waiting for anything and for just “being” instead of “doing” all the time.
There is power to be had in just being a patient observer. There is an effort that’s needed to remember to slow down and be present for whatever is happening now, especially when we have a long list of things that we need to do. How often do we take even small moments of time to stop and observe what is going on around us? Often we are simply lost in our thoughts or on autopilot.
Standing in a long – long line at the grocery store on the 3rd of July, the day before our big American holiday, I’m feeling impatient. I have too much to do to be waiting in line. I realize I could victimize myself with having to wait, but instead I make a choice. I decide to become acutely aware of what is happening right now and entertain myself with what could be perceived as a fairly boring experience.
First I take in the man in front of me, who saw me heading for the line and rushed to get in line ahead of me. My thought at the time was: “Are there are no gentlemen left in the world?”
I begin to notice his restlessness and discomfort standing there and think perhaps he is late for something or maybe he feels trapped while standing in line, or I wonder if his wife is at home suffering from a migraine and she’s needing the medication he holds in his hands. I don’t know—but I begin to feel compassion for this stranger and grateful for my momentary choice to practice patience.
The woman checking out is arguing with the young cashier over the price of an item, further delaying the long line of shoppers. A woman in line behind her throws her items down on the counter in exasperation and yells “Forget it! I’m outta here!”
Quietness of observing
Then I am left with the quietness of observing.
The little kid in his mom’s basket behind me is just watching. He does not have to make the choice of being patient. He has not yet lost his wonder of the world. Every moment is full of new and interesting things and, in this case, some curious human behaviors. He is in a state of “being” here for whatever is going on and whatever happens next. For adults, it takes effort to even remember to have this kind of attention.
WHAT DID PEOPLE DO BEFORE EMAIL?
We recently watched a classic western movie. Set in 1876 in a tiny Texas border town (Lonesome Dove) with one general store, one saloon/hotel and one lady of the evening that everyone shared. During the movie I thought about what life a hundred and fifty years ago would have been like, especially after the chores and the evening meal were over. What would you do with yourself back then before an early bedtime?
There was no email to check (and a letter took weeks to arrive at its destination), no television to watch, no radio (radio wasn’t even invented until 1895), and very few, if any, books to read—no library.
If alone, there was the porch and the sun setting and the rocking chair. Did people spend a lot more time just “being” in the evenings instead of doing? Did they watch a whole sunset, feel the breeze, smell the roses, notice fireflies?
The world seems to have sped up—we can do more and so we do more and faster. Patience may be becoming obsolete. I hope not. I am grateful when I remember to slow down and choose to notice what is around me, that I’m awake and feeling very alive, and that there is a lot to pay attention to—even when standing in line.
Live Conscious Retreats have been my greatest teacher in learning how to slow down, speak consciously, have more patience, and to appreciate “being” at least as much as “doing.”