I am feeling content; I had just enjoyed a delicious ten days in Mexico, the weather was perfect; I had caught an early bus to the airport so had lots of time; I had no baggage to check and had checked in on line. All I needed was to print my boarding pass and the airport hassles would be over. When I arrived at the airport it seemed comfortably peaceful, that was until I arrived at the United Airlines check-in. It was chaotic, disorganized and the line stretched down for what seemed a mile down the airport concourse.
Smugly I strolled by the line searching for the automated boarding pass printer. There wasn’t one! So I looked for the line for those with no baggage to check. There wasn’t one of those either. Reluctantly I walked back to the end of a line that was now even longer. My good mood began to dissipate. The problem with having expectations is that they can be easily dashed. I began to follow a relentless spiral that gradually sapped my good humour, leaving me anxious, angry and extremely impatient with United Airlines. Every other airline seemed to offer an automated boarding pass printing and no-one else had a lineup.
For a moment I worked at controlling my emotions. “Breathe,” I told myself, ‘You’ve had twenty years of spiritual practice to help you cope in moments like this.” But I just wanted to feel impatient and I gave my feelings permission to emote. I noticed myself enjoying creating civil unrest among my fellow passengers sucking them into my vortex of frustration. We were sharing the pain. The line inched forward. They added a third person. I knew there was no real issue with time as they would not leave us behind but I would forfeit my opportunity for a pre-flight Starbucks. Who did United Airlines think they were spoiling my euphoria? Of course the plane was late but by then I was over it. Like a kid who had exhausted himself I was now docile.
It was not until the next day that I began a post mortem of my reaction. Why can’t I learn patience? Logically I know being impatient serves no-one; it does not make a jot of difference to the outcome so why do I still do it. I remember a scene twenty years earlier standing in an organized line for check-in in Kathmandhu with all the other westerners for two hours, only to observe the line collapse in a frenzy when they opened the wicket which was swarmed by the late arriving Nepalese. I recall thinking at the time that the universe wanted me to learn patience so how come twenty years later despite all the work I had undertaken feeling no further ahead.
It was disappointing even downright humiliating. I decided this was worthy of enquiry. My commitment on this earth walk is to do my best to unravel my psychology. Why was I not able to learn patience? An insight emerged by just asking the question. I had been expecting spiritual practice to be the solution however I had never explored the psychology behind my impatience. So a journey began. It led me to an insightful blog titled Personality and Spirituality by a psychologist who goes by the name of barry. (http://personalityspirituality.net/articles/the-michael-teachings/chief-features/impatience/)
It described the misconceptions that lead to impatience: “it’s unfair, the rest of the world is ahead”, “life is short, I am wasting time”, “there is no time for delays”, and “slowing me down is unacceptable.” I related particularly to the first two perspectives. The blog went on to suggest that the fear beyond the fear was the child’s fear of missing out. This made sense and I felt a sense of progress. Was this what I had needed to understand?
It was a few days later at the gym that like the ball on a roulette wheel another insight slotted into place. It is my custom to listen to eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis while on the treadmill and recently I have been playing a series of lectures from his book, What Matters Most. He was emphasising a theme of his, which is that if you keep probing the fear behind the fear, the question behind the question and the anxiety behind the anxiety, you must eventually come back to one of two core issues: abandonment or overwhelment.
I asked my self which of these may be behind my impatience and it was easy to see it must be overwhelment. Then the pattern emerged. One of my coping systems to deal with this issue is to take control. I try to eliminate ambiguity and uncertainty by exerting any power I have to manage the environment.
In the case of travel I never check luggage and I always check in on line. United Airlines autonomously removed the benefit of these tactics and I lost control. At some level I encountered the primal fear of overwhelment and the result was the child’s responses – anger, impatience and even whining. So much of my reaction is unconscious which makes it so difficult to address. I hope that by knowing this I will be able to see the autonomous responses and engage them as an adult. Perhaps now the spiritual practice of focusing on the breath can once play its ordained role.