Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ, once wrote movingly about a chrysalis that he came across nestled in an olive tree. The infant butterfly, within its cocoon, was just starting to break through to greet a new life when Kazantzakis, anxious to shorten the natural process, breathed intensely on it. The butterfly eventually emerged, but because it was prematurely induced, its wings were insufficiently formed. Unable to take flight, the butterfly soon died. This intervention, in nature’s slow, unfolding of a life, gave Kazantzakis a stirring lesson to reflect upon. If he had let nature take its own course, if he had been more mindful and patient, the small butterfly would have felt the expression of life through its wings, but because Kazantzakis impatiently intervened in a process that he did not fully understand, he had unintentionally denied this butterfly a life
Impatience seems to enter into all our lives. Sometimes it surfaces in a small act of unconscious intervention, such as Kazantzakis; at other times it changes form into an explosive, blind rage, where people get physically and emotionally hurt. But in whatever way it finds expression, in whatever way it manifests itself, it’s all impatience, it’s all about letting our frustration get the better of us.
IMPATIENCE: WHAT EXACTLY IS THE HURRY?
Impatience seems to be a growing modern malaise that we all have to contend with in our lives, either as perpetrators or recipients. I have often felt it in myself, and seen it in others; that welling up of irritation, annoyance and frustration that can change peoples’ personalities in an instant. That feeling of exasperation that keeps us way from being present in the moment, calm and attentive, to the unfolding of life as it is, and not as we want it to be.
Responding to situations in a considered, reflective manner seems to bring out the best in us, and reacting to situations in an hasty ‘ let’s get this over with ‘ approach invariably brings out some of the worse in us. Impatience rarely gets the results we really want, it just forces its way forward with an ‘ I know best ‘ attitude that tangles us up in irritation and disappointment
My impatience is something that I constantly work with in order to cultivate a more relaxed state of mind, a more relaxed state of being where I’m fully attending, fully accepting of the present, fully engaged with the now. But it isn’t easy…
Whether I’m waiting for the kettle to boil on the gas ring, or delayed in traffic congestion, if I’m preoccupied with the thoughts that I’m far too busy to be wasting time, that I should be elsewhere, then my impatience is winning.
Even when I’m writing, I can sometimes feel the company of impatience gnawing away in the background, pressurizing me to quickly form appropriate sentences and paragraphs, to move the writing along, to reach out for closure. But this rather forceful way of operating only stifles creative flow, which has its own rhythm to effectively deliver what is needed. My only obligation is to listen attentively to this rhythm, place myself within its presence, and patiently work along side it. I have to constantly remind myself that the writing is in charge, not me. All I really have to do is attend, with a concentrated but relaxed mind, and wait…..
Impatience can be a sign of something much deeper, not just a distracting mind that keeps us away from the present, but an anxious and sometimes neurotic one as well.
Impatience will not change anything for the better, it only makes us feel worse. It tries to rush us swiftly into the next moment without due regard for experiencing the present one.
Giving up our sense of urgency and frustration – “ I want it now ! “ – is the road to relaxed awareness that can offer us so much in terms appreciating what life, in all its infinite richness, can offer.
Quick fix, quick solutions, quick results, with no intervening incubation period for reflection, is increasingly gaining a strong foothold in our culture and closing down our potential for deeper, fuller possibilities.
The Greek origin of the word patience is pathos – suffering…….
THE SEASONALITY OF LIFE: THE LESSONS WE NEED TO LEARN….
I vividly recall, at the age of nine or ten, my class taking hyacinth bulbs to school on the instruction of our teacher. The bulbs were placed on the tops of narrow necked, glass jars, full of water, and then left on a shelf. The class was told to wait until shoots started to appear. Days came, and days went but there were no signs of any shoots. Boredom quickly set in as we waited, and waited. Finally, when we all had started to really lose interest in this process of ‘ looking and not seeing ‘, we suddenly started seeing…
Slowly at first, but very much visible, were small, white tendrils growing out of the base of the bulbs, stretching out in order to reach the water. In time the tendrils grew so long that they curled around the base of the jars in loops. Top growth also came, giving birth to full, scented blossoms that still make me heady, even today, as I continue to grow hyacinth bulbs.
Through my experience at school I learnt a valuable lesson about patience and letting nature unfold in her own time. Much later I realized that the blooms of the hyacinths were in the bulbs all the time, just waiting to find expression…
“ Spring comes and the grass grows by itself.”
In our technological, postmodernist world, where we are even getting agitated over the response time of the fastest computers, we run the risk of missing out on a valuable lesson about waiting. In the natural world there is no rushing – the sun never tells the moon to hurry up to complete its cycle because it’s busy, and needs extra time to do so many things, it just follows its natural path of slow awakening into the new morning according to the set laws of nature. And are we really any different?
Now with the new technology we are just a click away from a result, just a click away from an immediacy not really reflected in nature; and it is in nature that we must look for guidance, not in the new technology. We are all sentient beings, flesh of nature; not printed circuit boards, products of technology.
PATIENCE FOR PEOPLE: OUR GREATEST TEST?
People can irritate us, they can also aggravate us, that is a reality of human interaction that we all have to face. But how we respond to those self – generating feelings is another matter. If we allow a sense of bitterness and anger to develop, then ultimately, we will be the ones who will really suffer. But if we accept an attitude of equanimity, where we are prepared to offer up a tolerant space for people to operate within ( which is what we seem to make available for ourselves ) then we can avoid slipping into an entrapment of corrosive feelings that cause us untold damage, psychologically speaking. Perhaps we do not have such an all embracing, clear, informed perspective on things, as we may think we do. Perhaps we are sometimes prone to misinterpret situations and individuals. Perhaps we are, at times, too insensitive to other peoples’ feelings, too judgemental. Perhaps we need to relax more around certain issues.
Opening up and expanding an inner landscape on which we can accommodate the faults of others, and the faults of our own, is an important development for our spiritual growth. But we do need to recognize that where there are serious problems to overcome, patience, per se, cannot heal them, it just provides the necessary space in which compassion and forgiveness can hopefully surface. Then a healing can take place.
LISTENING AS A PRODUCT OF PATIENCE
On the road to developing patience for others, as well as for ourselves, we automatically begin to awaken a listening process within us that can uncover and reveal deeper truths.
A listening process that pays attention to not only what is said, but also what is not said. That absorbs verbal communication, as well as non – verbal communication into a deeper understanding. People then start to feel comfortable and relaxed with us, maybe for the first time, because a ground has been prepared for them to become fully themselves. Too often individuals are kept at a distance from us, on the periphery of our lives, and so consequently we deny ourselves the opportunity to get to know them better. And without fully engaging with people, without fully listening to them, we cannot really lay claim to being fully alive.
” Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing. It is often through the quality of our listening and not the wisdom of our words that we are able to affect the most profound changes in the people around us. When we listen we offer sanctuary for the homeless parts within the other person. That which has been denied, unloved, devalued by themselves and others. That which is hidden. When you listen generously to people, they can hear the truth in themselves often for the first time.”
Rachel Naomi Remen
NO ACTION CAN BE GOOD ACTION
Because the pace of modern life can push us all over the place, insisting that agendas are prepared, decisions are made, action is taken, we can sometimes get lost amongst it all.
We can sometimes get confused and frustrated about the responses we should make. In these moments we must never be afraid to pull back and wait awhile, allowing an acceptance to form around the process of letting go. Good, well understood decision making can never really flow from pressurized feelings, self – imposed or otherwise. It can only flourish when we are relaxed and reflective, drawing on our inner wisdom to arrive at the best judgements. Pavlovian, knee jerk responses ( which we all tend to make at times ) run the risk of working against us, of bypassing our deeper, thought processing and throwing us into anxiety and regret. Waiting does not mean doing nothing, it means reflecting, relaxing and seeing what develops. Perhaps things can work out fine without our interference, without our intervention, if we make the decision not to make a decision!
“ Do you have the patience to wait until the mud settles and
the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving until the right
action arises by itself? “
Perhaps, unlike Kazantzakis, we should be patient and leave things alone. Learn from the lesson of nature, of which we are all an integral part, and let everything unfold as it should. Nature has its own time, but it is not the time of ticking clocks and flashing, digital readouts. It’s not the time of busy schedules and set agendas. It’s the time of seasonality, where everything has its own internal breathe of life, which we have no right to influence or change because we haven’t the patience to stay present and wait.
Patience is deeply embedded in nature and we do need to honour this. If Kazantzakis had shown more patience, and not interfered with the natural cycle of life, there might have been 10,000 more butterflies flourishing in this world of ours. So next time that you feel called to respond in a given situation, think deeply about the possible outcomes that might develop, and act mindfully, act patiently, for all our sakes.
JOURNEY LONG – JOURNEY WELL