My New Strategy for Chronic Impatience

February 19, 2016

It is a beautiful sunny February day in Vancouver. There is an inversion and I have discovered that the temperature at the top of my local mountain is 16c (60F) twice that in my neighbourhood. I am setting out with my snow boots and YakTraks for a snow hike. I feel a sense of joyful anticipation for a day outdoors, getting sunshine, exercise and balmy temperatures.The euphoria lasts only a few moments as my trip confronts a series of obstacles from red lights to construction to traffic. I observe I get impatient and try as I might to talk myself out of the state, it lingers and actually deteriorates at each light that changes red just as I approach.

I am no in a hurry, I have no deadline or appointments and logically have no reason to feel any angst yet it each red light is like a red flag to a bull.

I am puzzled and work hard at managing it. I come across a diversion and rather than give in to the impatience that would have me turn off blindly into the side streets to find my way, I decide to obediently follow the “detour” signs. 

This strategy makes it worse than ever as there is more construction, new lights and stop/go traffic and the detour is taking me miles out of my way. Finally I can stand it no more, I revert to strategy one and wind my way blindly through neighbourhood streets until ….. I find myself back where I began the diversion.

Then something unexpected happened. I began to laugh. It was as though the spell was broken. The irony tickled my sense of humour. The impatience I was feeling lost its hold over me. I actually found my way to the mountain with ease and in what seemed like no time I was at the Gondola base. Even seeing the car leave without me due to a school bus load of kids did not disrupt my good humour. I enjoyed a wonderful couple of hours hiking the Snow Grouse Grind. 

What happened? I felt somewhat bemused but sensed there was a life lesson here. I have experienced a sense of disappointment at my lack of progress to manage impatience in my life. I recall over twenty years ago while in Nepal I suspected that learning patience was part of the meaning in my life. 

I was catching a flight from Kathmandu to New Delhi, had arrived two hours early as required and was lining up with fifty other Westerners patiently waiting for the gate to open. When the it finally opened the line collapsed into chaos and one hundred Nepalese converged on the attendant. I noticed my sense of outrage and frustration that finally led me to accept perhaps this was my lesson in patience.

Now precisely twenty-three yeas later, after twenty years of meditating, spiritual contemplation and practice, I seem no further ahead. My impatience has felt like a weakness, somehow it seems unspiritual and not soulful. 

Then a breakthrough, I realize I don’t choose to get impatient. It is autonomous and begins with a felt sense in my body. There is no mechanism that I know of to stop it happening. I come by it legitimately – my father had little patience, and at least four of my six siblings share the same trait. From the standpoint of evolution it does not seem much of an advantage. Impatient hunters would not have much success. 

Yet somehow this genetic predisposition has survived. Are impatient people high achievers? It’s a mystery but I have always judged my tendency for impatience but now I see that is a waste of energy. Surely some growth can emerge by how I deal with it. The key is how to cope with it. I see two strategies – one is to find humour in the situation, the other is to listen to some beautiful music.

I had a chance to put a theory to the test when I arrived in Mexico on Wednesday. The immigration hall was its usual chaotic self. I can easily begin to fume at being in the wrong line, or someone else finding a shortcut. As no comedian seemed available I pulled my iPhone out of my pockets and began to listen to Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor. This exquisite piece did its work. In fact the Mexican authorities cooperated by adding an ultra efficient agent to my line. My body calmed and my mind relaxed, The words of Julian of Norwich came to mind “all manner of things shall be well”.

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