I facilitate a bimonthly Mindfulness group. During the meeting prior to Thanksgiving, I suggested that in addition to being mindful of the many blessings and things each group member felt thankful for, participants should call to mind something they needed to give up. Perhaps this might be an old way of thinking that no longer served them, a grudge that they harbored, a habit or negative behavior that it was time to let go of.
For me, the thing that came to mind was impatience. I have long recognized my own impatience and have worked on becoming more patient. People sometimes (not often enough) comment on how patient I am. I reply, “It’s an acquired trait and does not come naturally to me.” Admittedly, I have made progress on abandoning impatience, but I’m not there.
Or, maybe I am. This realization follows a Thanksgiving Friendship Bench exercise which started with a request to: “Write down something you need to let go of.” It seemed more than a coincidence that this was the very exercise I had already tasked myself with, and I conveniently already had an answer—impatience is what I need to let go of. Then, in a mindful sort of way, I asked myself:
Is letting go of impatience the act of grasping for patience, or is it letting go of both?
The answer I came up with, an epiphany of sorts, is that patience has a deceptive quality to it. We consider it as something desirable to have; this makes it an object of desire, something to strive to obtain. At their core, both impatience and patience are rooted in the future. They both focus on an outcome or circumstance that is not presently manifested in our lives. Mindfulness is all about focusing on the present moment. It seems to me that recognizing this present-centeredness requires abandoning both impatience and patience as two sides of the same coin. It seems a little paradoxical to claim that letting go of impatience simultaneously requires one to let go of patience. Yet, how can we truly center ourselves in the present moment by directing our thoughts on a future outcome?
I think of hope and fear in similar terms—two sides of the same coin. To say I am hoping for some desirable or positive outcome is just a sugar-coated way of saying I am fearful of an undesirable or negative outcome. Both hope and fear are rooted in future outcomes. I detailed this in a chapter in a book that I titled: “The Insufficiency of Hope.” I went on to point out that trust is a way to eliminate both hope and fear. With trust, a mindset rooted in the present, there is no place for hope or fear.
The same applies to both impatience and patience. With an attitude of trust, I find no place for either impatience or patience. This thought exercise brought me to a realization that letting go of impatience, required not working on being more patient but in having more trust. Furthermore, it is said that one of the characteristics of love is patience (Love is kind, love is patient, etc.) but this patience is not an object to be sought after, it is an emergent property of love itself and flows outward. The same can be said of trust, i.e., that patience emerges from being centered in trust.
I am no longer focused on acquiring more patience. With this new understanding, I want patience to emerge from trust and love. Should anyone comment on my impatience or my patience, I shall now answer, “I’m working on being more loving and more trusting.”
And, while I’m patiently waiting for all this to happen, I am acutely mindful of how this Thanksgiving exercise is something I am deeply grateful for.