Impatience – A Gift Or Curse?

September 22, 2011

For years I have been working with developing patience. It was in Nepal over 20 years ago that I first began to attempt to let go of the need to vent when things did not go my way. Until that time I had a very bad reputation; one of my bosses kindly observed, “you have a low tolerance for stupidity”  while suggesting I work on being more patient. During my mid-life crisis I remember arriving at Kathmandu airport with time to spare for our flight to India. One by one as we arrived, the westerners joined an orderly single file line-up waiting for check-in to open. There seemed to be no Nepalese in sight, then the desk opened and in an instant all the disciplined foreigners were forced to the back of a scrum that formed around the one lonely attendant. In this moment I sensed one of my cosmic lessons was patience and made a commitment to practice as best as I could continuing in this vein for two decades.

I had assumed by now that the universe would let me off the hook and allow me to exhibit a permanent state of Zen without subjecting me to the numerous inconveniences of life – flying frustrations, grocery store line-ups, ferry waits, traffic chaos, annoying telephone answering systems to name but a few of the modern day afflictions that await the well intentioned. Unfortunately despite all the tools I have practiced over the years: attending to the breath, listening to restful chants on my iPod, smiling pacifically as others panic, affirming faith in the universe’s plan, guided meditations, living fully in the present moment – all seems to have come to naught. How humbling is that? I feel a bit like Sisyphus perpetually rolling my boulder to the top of the hill then having it roll back down. Then I came across a quote by someone named Guy Kawasaki, author of a book titled Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions suggesting “patience is the art of concealing your impatience.” Is that all I have been doing?

Things came to a head recently when visiting my brother in London and observing his impatience. “You are just like your father!” I somewhat smugly observed. “And I think I am just like you” he said later causing me to pause and reflect. I am just like him; we both have the same genetic predisposition to impatience; I deal with it somewhat differently. I notice it more and it likely bugs me more; he is quite happy with his impatience while I fret about mine; I think my brother would agree with Marianne Moore an American modernist poet who said, “Impatience is the mark of independence, not of bondage.” I suspect she and my brother would have been at the front of the chaos in Nepal instead of waiting patiently while best seats disappeared.

So what now? Can I change my nature? The fable of the scorpion and the frog suggests not. The scorpion asks the frog to transport him across a river. The frog worries about being stung during the trip, but the scorpion argues that if it stung the frog, the frog would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog agrees and begins carrying the scorpion, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion points out that this is its nature. So should I stop trying? I think not, I will choose to work with my impatience to avoid projecting on others but give myself some license when I get it wrong. Stopping to witness the futility of my impatience may indeed not immediately bring the feelings under control but it does help to highlight how unhelpful it really is. And perhaps at times I will simply be content with concealing my impatience.