A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains – Dutch Proverb
The Dutch have a strange way of getting down to brass tacks, but I dig their spiffy way of spirituality. Perhaps it’s because the linked insane combination of the Netherlands being the world’s leader in importing cheese, and also having the lowest occurrence of lactose intolerance in the world (a paltry 1% – in your face, China). Let Luxembourg and Belarus deal with bloated and gassy guts. More cheese for the heathens, less for the statuesque Dutch. Let that buy time to contemplate things while chewing juniper-scented gum and skating down the Herengracht.
But what about that patience thing?
My oldest son got a whole whack of LEGO for Christmas. There is one theme per year, and this year it was those little things that I love stepping on in the middle of the night on the way to the bathroom. The sharper and finer, the better. Now this isn’t just a box of random blocks like I had growing up. These are specific, custom kits that require more instruction and documentation than the Treaty of Versailles. Miss one piece the size of a pinhead and the thing doesn’t go together properly. A monster truck ends up looking like a stack of wet doilies if not properly put together. This not a Box O’ Imagination. It’s construction work on Lilliputian scale.
But the other day, my son (who is six-years old) started to put together a kit for himself. Without much adult help. A first for him. And the major muscle he was flexing and building was the patience muscle. The one that can quickly atrophy and jump start the occasional meltdown. Watching him was a study in studying. Of breathing and just being with the blocks, one by one, seeing what is needed, what is required at any time, following the directions in the book and going back when a mistake was made. Sometimes he had to check in with my wife. But overall, he was able to pass through the tough parts of the build without stomping away like, well, a six-year old kid.
So while I watched him, I thought of where my own head space was lately. I had been thinking about this whole theme or word for the year kind of thing that a few folks out here have already done. Never having done this before, I was both a bit excited and fearful. Was I just jumping on some spiritual bandwagon, or was there something moving me that way? So I meditated on this. See what the Big Enchilada thought of these schemes. Because as we all know, that if you want to make Him laugh, tell Him your plans. So meditate I did…outside, while I was waiting for the bus. I sat in the freezing cold and just let my mind be. And before long, the one word popped out: patience.
Now, I thought for a while that “perspective” was the word that I felt a bit pulled towards, but when “patience” usurped it, it immediately reminded me of something: that in the last 6-8 months, when I have meditated, the word “patience” has always, always, always been there. And I always, always, always dismissed it. Patience? So what? I moved past it – hoping to get some of the real juice and buzz from the Creator. “Where’s the fireworks, Dude?” I’d ask, fanning away the burnt sage or frankincense I often use. “You keep pandering this lightweight stuff around like a broken Tickle Me Elmo and what I seek is XBox kind of whizz and whirl.” I never understood why that word always nested in my mind. I didn’t really have a use for it, in some way. It just lingered.
And so when it came time to sit and think, it popped up and there it was – a purpose. A multifaceted gem, shining through the pomp and circumstance of my ego’s mind, ready to be picked up and caressed. To be adorned and yet held in sweaty hands and prickly thoughts. So it’s been something brewing for some time…a sort of piece to a puzzle I never knew existed. Not that I needed a word to zip me into some serenity or doing good works or just being nice, for goodness sake. But it felt right to have an anchor of some kind. Or a touchstone, perhaps. Or some sort of calendar on the wall to look at now and then and reference and adjust myself to. A modifier to a dangling participle.
So patience it is. And that’s a groovy thing. But patience for what exactly? I was thinking about this too. It’s all grand and dandy to think in such vague declarations, not tethering it to any sort of manner of living, so announcing that I will “be more patient” seems a bit vacant to me. It has no context for me. Not that it’s a measurable thing, too – like how many SmartiesTM I can jam in my nose at once (twenty one – no red ones though) or how far I can toss a javelin (who cares, it’s the effort put in, right? Right?). I needed a framework or at least some idea of what the heck “patience” meant to me.
Patience comes in a few ways for me. We all know the impatience that comes in waiting in line at the grocery store or government office. We know the impatience that may come with someone who may tell a tall tale and doesn’t get to the point. Or traffic (alcoholics seem to lose any serenity as soon as they get behind the wheel). These situations are unavoidable, and when I first got sober, I learned to look at things from other people’s point-of-view. Maybe the cashier had a sick child up all night and is tired. Maybe the driver ahead of me is lost and anxious. Perhaps the neighbour is lonely and needs to talk to someone. And it helped. But I slowly started to get back into ego and started getting back into old thinking: “Is that cashier dumb? I am in a hurry!” or “C’mon stupid driver – move! I don’t have all day” or “Oh please get to the end of this story – I want to go home and just play Pac Man”.
All of those things involve me. I. Selfishness. And in the end, I get all bent out of shape for something that I can’t control. My impatience slowly erodes and scruffs the edges out of my serenity. My impatience puts me back in me…a scary place to be for an alcoholic of my kind. For me, the word that attaches to this type of patience is empathy. If I even try to understand where someone is coming from or perhaps their situation, I might find it colours my own perception (see, a groovy word!) and thus puts me in a gentler, kinder place. When I start to empathize a bit more, I find my impatience wanes and I am at a calmer place.
But there is also a deeper level of patience – that of interacting with others. If I can’t control or change the lineup situation at Blockbuster or Sam the Record Man (I need to update my references, methinks), I certainly can’t control others and their own reactions and actions. I have tried that in the past and it’s like trying to push back the ocean with a lint brush. In the past, trying to control all people and situations to suit me was a way of avoiding looking at myself. To an alcoholic, the idea of changing the whole world seems a lot less daunting than changing one’s self. So when things didn’t go “my way”, my impatience level skyrocketed. I stomped away like a six-year old with a three-year old maturity.
So knowing this, my patience with others – whether it be my children, my wife, my co-workers, my neighbours, my friends – takes on a different flavour. It’s not like a line up where I know that there is an end. Relationships are a bit more complicated than that – like playing Jenga on a life raft during hurricane season. For me, the word that attaches to this type of patience is compassion. Compassion towards those in my life, whether I appreciate or even like them, brings me a new kind of patience. When attached to empathy and love and tolerance, I am at a whole new level – like an Indiana-Jones-this-is-the-room-where-they-store-the-Ark-of-the-Covenant-type level.
When I show patience with others who may or may not be in a good mental or emotional space, when I show patience with someone who may be unfit in some way, when I show patience with someone who is in an agitated state, then I am keeping my own serenity and spiritual wellness intact – I don’t get all Hulk-Hogan-ripping-the-shirt-off mental. I don’t engage at a level that takes me out of peace and understanding. Easy to say there, Mr. Tolle, eh? I haven’t shown the patience I have needed when my oldest is having his fifth meltdown in an hour. I haven’t shown patience when my wife asks me to do something first thing in the morning. I haven’t shown patience when I am trying to get someone off the phone or out of my office.
And what it comes down to is expectations. When my expectations are trampled on (and they almost always are) – I get impatient, irritable, annoyed and then I go down the merry road of resentment. But before I hit that un-rest spot, I am edgy. I am short of fuse. I am testy. I am getting into the -ism of my alcoholism: I, Selfish, Me. My patience is thin because my expectations are thick. When I expect a perfect child having peace and quiet, and in fact he is having trouble with something or hasn’t had much sleep, then my patience is dissolved like used tissue (ewwww). When I expect my wife to just let me do whatever I want while ignoring what needs to be done, my patience is easily toppled. When I expect people to leave me alone in my office and just do their work without question, then my patience slips away like a ninja in the night.
So dealing with my expectations really helps me with my patience. High expectations= low patience, high resentment. Simple enough for my lizard brain to get. My ego may fight that one though. So I carry spiritual principles into all my affairs and I try to get right with myself so that I may be of service to others and not get caught up in flying off the mental handle. When I do show patience, through the lens of compassion and love and light, I am in a safer place, a gentler plane, a more serene landing spot.
And when I finally go one spot deeper on the patience depth chart…the one spot that I truly think that I am supposed to truly sit with this year (and every year, frankly) is the idea of being patient with myself and where I am in my recovery and my new life. For me, the word that attaches to this type of patience is self-love. I think that this is what that voice in me, that inner nudging, was trying to get me to investigate – this idea that I need to be patient with where I am in this world.
You see, as an alcoholic, self-centered and selfish in my ways, I always wanted things NOW. Got it? Gimme now. Want it? Get it here. Don’t have it? Take it right away. Alcohol was my way of getting instant and immediate relief from the torture of being me, to deal with the things around me that felt unapproachable in any other fashion. Those impulse buy carts at IKEA with the 1000 pk tea lights and the Flövegnutågen left-handed parsley curlers was made for a guy like me. Even when I don’t want it or need it, I want it and need it right away. So alcohol gave that craving of something at that moment, when I wanted it, where I wanted it, how I wanted it. Usually alone and desperate. Self-loathing as a chaser.
Alcohol was Desire’s holy grail in liquid form. A quick fix measured out in shot glasses.
So here I am now faced with the antithesis of my old ways of thinking. Like much of where I needed to come to in recovery, I am looking at changing my way of thinking…and being. Being patient at a deep level, beyond
stupid busy shopping mart lines and bothersome enquiring employees, is the real challenge.
Wanting my life to be exactly how I want it now, won’t happen today. Wanting my recovery to be exactly how I want it now, won’t happen today. Wanting my dreams and wishes granted now won’t happen today. This is where my deep patience lies. Knowing that I don’t have all the answers now, knowing that I can’t foresee things, knowing that the direction of my life is out of my hands…these are the things I need to sit with and be okay with. And for the most part, I am. Certainly there are moments where I want to rush things. I want to know specific things. I want to know general things. I want, I want, I want. Patience, grasshopper. It all comes in His time, not mine. So sit, have a croissant, maybe a little espresso. Watch the clouds, contemplate the ground I stand on, feel the wind on your ears. Practice self-love. Be kind to the man in the mirror.
As I practice patience on the small things and in my personal relationships, the more centered I become. The more centered I become, the more I realize that I am just a cog in this machina. Sometimes just sitting is the best answer to my questions. Sometimes it’s just being mindful and eating in the scenery. Sometimes it’s action. My thinking and my reactions to things are my tools. Seeing others in another light, being kind and gentle to those around me, taking solace in that things happen for a reason when they happen, breathing, counting, using other resources to keep me tethered to the ground is what I strive for this year. To be patient with myself and where I am in my journey. To see that I am where I need to be right here and right now and not over there. To take the actions needed when I know deep down that it’s time to do something about it.
And like my son with his LEGO, it’s about breathing and just being with things, moment by moment even, seeing what is needed, doing what is required at any time, following the directions from that voice in the back of my mind that tells me what is the right thing to do, no matter how much my ego protests. Building a life, block by block.
Sounds good to me.