M.J. Ryan

The Power of Patience

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    I also take inspiration from the wise counsel of a woman known as Peace Pilgrim who once wrote, “Judging others will avail you nothing and injure you spiritually.
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    We can choose how to respond to a given event, rather than being hijacked by our emotions. I
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    . Though everything is a mess, all is well.”
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    and so injurious to our capacity to make good choices.
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    Scaring ourselves with disastrous scenarios is so typically human
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    A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains.
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    confidence that by persistence and patience something worthwhile will be realized
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    It's a combination of motivation (wanting to), awareness (paying attention to our inner landscape), and cultivation (practicing).
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    If we want to live wider and deeper lives, not just faster ones, we have to practice patience
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    equire that we practice patience in order not merely to cope, but to grow in love and wisdom.
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    Love and patience are two intertwining strands, like the DNA that is the foundation of human life. With love, we can be patient—with ourselves, with others, with life itself. With patience, we can love—ourselves, other people, and the mysterious, aweinspiring journey of life. Each strand informs and supports the other, each inevitably teaches about the other.

    One of the greatest inspirational writers of the nineteenth century was a man named Henry Drummond who wrote a best-selling little book entiled The Greatest Thing in the World. In it, he said, “The world is not a playground; it is a schoolroom. Life is not a holiday but an education. And the one eternal question for us all is how better can we love.”

    May your patience give you the capacity to meet that grand challenge and may your love—for yourself as well as others—lead you to grow your patience until it shines brightly in the world for the benefit of all.
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    As we cultivate this heart habit called patience, we deserve our own mercy. “Mercy” is an oldfashioned word; you don't hear it much these days. “Mercy,” writes French philosopher André ComteSponville, “is the virtue of forgiveness . . . mercy is that path which accommodates even those who fail to reach its end.”

    I love this word because among its meanings is this: compassionate treatment of those in distress. When we show ourselves mercy, we cradle our distress, our irritation and anger. We hold it close, we allow it to touch and thereby transform us. We melt our rigid insistence that we must be perfect. Even if we haven't lived up to our own standards, we love and care for ourselves anyway, just as we are—in our woundedness, with our strength. And the more love and mercy we shower on ourselves, the more patience we'll have to flow over to the rest of the imperfect people who populate this less than perfect world.
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    Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself . . . every day begin the task anew.


    IONCE CAME UPON a quote that said, “A patient man is one who can put up with himself.” Over time, I've come to better understand the wisdom of those words and the ones by St. Francis opening this section. For, in the cultivation of patience, we are really being called on to love ourselves in all our brokenness and beauty, when we stumble as well as soar.
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    jitteriness and yes, irritability, the inability to take life in stride. According to one study, more than half of Americans consume more than the recommended amount of two hundred milligrams per day. (The average cup of coffee contains one hundred milligrams.) When I found myself drinking as much as a quart a day of iced tea, I switched to decaf. Yes, I had a blinding headache for a day, but it was worth the price for the increase in calmness and patience.
    Tuning out when someone's talking? Think about a time in your life when you needed someone to be patient with you and they were. When you remember the healing power of patience in your life, you'll have more with others.
    Would I rather be right or effective? That's a great question to hold in your mind when you're in a conflict with someone. Use it as often as you need to keep your goal—and your patience—front and center.
    Find an inspirational quote (this book has plenty) that you can put on your computer, on your bathroom mirror, in your car. When you find patience slipping, read it for an immediate booster shot.
    Ask for help. Lots of times we are impatient because we are overloaded. There's no prize at the end of your life for doing too much, particularly if you do it in a frazzled state.
    Try laughing at yourself or your situation. Christopher Reeve wrote eloquently about how joking helped him. When asked how he was doing in the early stages of his paralysis, he replied, “Well, my throat's a little scratchy, I have an itch on my nose, and my fingernails need cutting. Oh—and I'm paralyzed.”
    Testy at the office? Go online and search for soothing pictures and music, as well as relaxation exercises that you can do at your desk. Or give yourself a laugh at www.theonion.com.
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    how it feels to do that. Place it carefully down and with awareness, then lift and place the other foot. See how long you can focus on lifting and placing. When you find your mind wandering, gently return it to noticing your walking. You will not only be calmer while waiting, but will be building your patience muscle.
    Waiting impatiently for your computer to boot up? Do the rag doll, which relaxes back and neck muscles. Push away from the desk, sit on the edge of your chair with your knees and feet about twelve inches apart. Put your head between your knees, allowing your hands to rest on the floor between your feet. Breathe and allow your irritation and tension to flow out of your body into the floor.
    Try the red-light meditation. Use a red light, ringing phone, or other frustration to notice three breaths. Simply notice how your breath goes in and comes out, without trying to change it.
    Try mindfulness in chores. When wiping the kitchen table, for instance, really notice what you are doing. Feel your arm as it moves back and forth; enjoy the shine you are creating. It will take no longer than doing it mindlessly and by bringing yourself fully to the enjoyment of the experience, you have more patience for it.
    Cut down or swear off caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that can cause
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    IN ADDITION TO THE PRACTICES suggested in Section 4, here are easy things you can do on the spot when you are looking to increase your patience.

    If you've got a big project you're working on, choose to notice what you've done rather than what you've got left to do. The “glass half full” approach increases patience because it taps into our sense of positivism. As one man wrote about building a boat, “I don't think about how long it will take. Instead I notice how far I've come.”
    At your tolerance limit with someone at work or home? Try a vigorous walk or jog. You'll burn off the stress hormones that have accumulated in your system and will be more able to reengage your patience when you return.
    The old advice to count to ten before speaking in a heated situation really can work. It gives you a chance to remember what really matters to you—blowing off steam or finding an effective solution. If ten doesn't work, try twenty. Keep counting!
    Seek practical solutions to the things that irritate you about your mate rather than nag. Get a refrigerator with an automatic ice cube maker if you go nuts about your sweetie always forgetting to fill the ice cube trays; get the toothpaste that comes in a pump if you see red at the sight of the cap left off. Many such simple solutions exist if we look for them.
    Put a small pebble in your pocket. When you start to feel irritation rise, move the pebble from one pocket to the other, which will help interrupt the anger cycle and give you a chance to regroup.
    Standing in line, take yourself on a mental vacation. Visualize the most peaceful place you can think of. See, feel, and hear yourself there. Bring to mind the feelings that such a place evokes in you. Rather than focusing on how long you have to wait, relish this chance to take a little daydream to Tahiti or the Alps.
    Kids, parents, spouse making your blood boil? Remember what legacy you want to leave in the world. That your father says on his deathbed that you were so kind? That your son thanks you for being a patient teacher to him? Take a minute now to think of what you would want to be remembered for after you are gone and bring it to mind in times of relationship trials.
    Start a patience movement. Thank others for being patient when you've been the one fumbling for the right change and holding everyone up. It will defuse their tension and yours, and perhaps encourage others to do the same.
    When you have to wait a long time for something to come to fruition—a big project, for instance—celebrate small milestones along the way. Ten pages done? Take yourself to lunch. When we reward ourselves for what we've accomplished, we give ourselves the resilience to press on.
    No time to go on retreat? Use waiting in line to practice walking meditation. Feel your feet on the floor. Carefully pick up one foot, noticing
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    That's why I was so attracted to the story I read about former Apollo astronaut Alan Bean. Bean, like most astronauts, had previously been a test pilot and test pilots are trained to ask one question when something goes wrong in the air: “Is this thing still flying?” It's a way of helping the pilot mentally evaluate how serious a problem is rather than panicking so that he or she can calmly come up with a solution.

    That training came in handy, Bean relates, when he was in the Apollo 12 capsule. As the spaceship took off, it was struck by lightning. Suddenly every warning light on the instrument panel flashed, and the astronauts on board felt under tremendous pressure to DO SOMETHING. But then, said Bean, he remembered the question. The spacecraft was not only still flying, but it was still headed in the right direction—to the moon. So he decided not to abort the mission, but patiently dealt with each warning light one by one until all functions were restored. And yes, they successfully made it to the moon.

    Chances are the things that cause you and me to lose patience are not so immediately life-threatening as being in a spaceship struck by lightning. That should make it even more possible for us to stop and ask, “Is this thing still flying?” In other words, am I truly in a life-or-death situation or do I have time to calmly evaluate my options?
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    (which is just a memory) and what might happen (which is only an idea). Now is the only time anything happens. When we are awake in our lives we know what's happening.

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    We are all dangling in mid-process between what already happened
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    Take a moment right now to think about how you could begin to underwhelm yourself. Think you can't eliminate anything from your list? Try looking at it as choices you've been making, choices that you can change if you want to.

    Sheila saw that she'd been choosing to solve the problem on her own without looking around for other resources. She and Ted ended up inviting his mother to live with them. Now they always have a backup caretaker and driver and Ted, Sheila, and their kids are much more patient—and happy.

    How can you reclaim your life
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