OK, this is an old joke, so forgive me if you’ve heard it. A psychologist is giving a talk and describes how every couple has its own unique frequency of making love. She then asks people in the audience to state how often they have sex. Hands shot up as she called out “Once a day?” “Several days a week?” “Once a week?” and so on. At the end of her questioning, a fellow in the back of the room was frantically waving his hand. When she called on him, he screamed exuberantly, “Once a year!”
“If you only make love once a year, why are you so excited?”
“Tonight’s the night!”
This joke has been on my mind since the great Brood II locust infestation of 2013 started back in May. These lowly critters have waited 17 years to see the light of day, do their reproductive duty, and then die. As Sara Maslin Nir pointed out in a New York Times essay, the 17-year locust cycle, like the passing of Halley’s comet and transit of Venus, are so rare as to be “metaphors for the virtues of patience itself.”
While locusts obviously don’t have any conscious capability for experiencing “patience,” the occasion of their burrowing to the surface for a brief stay on earth does make one think: How can we, with our greatly evolved super brains, become more patient beings. Here are some thoughts.
Five ways to be patient:
- Pay attention to what’s making you feel like you’re in a hurry. Our minds are constantly jumping from thought to thought, task to task, worry to worry. We live interrupted lives, punctuated with distractions that come at us from all sides. Multi-tasking is the norm. (Even though there’s strong evidence that shows there’s no such thing!) All this adds up to a state of hurry. Here’s a little trick that I like to call “number it.” There are two steps to the “number it” process: (1) list and number all of the things that are pulling you every which way, and (2) reduce the list to things that have to be done. These steps alone will illuminate the insanity of the jumping mind and the value of slowing down.
- Take your mind to obedience school and learn the command “Sit!” Sounds trite, but when you break the impatience mode, even for a second, you have a chance to make a choice: (a) continue business as usual, or (b) opt out for a moment of patience. Saying sit reminds you of option B. Patience not only relaxes you, it also offers that wonderful state of being that we call “peace of mind,” which has an incredible effect of the quality of life.
- Take a time out to notice all of the good things that life offers you. Begin by noticing that every time you breathe in, there is fresh air available. That, right there is wonderful, and it is only one of ten thousand ways that life supports you, every day, with living a great life. When you pause to notice, you’ll appreciate how much more life is in your favor rather than against you. Just realizing this calms you, which in turn promotes patience.
- Let go until you feel underwhelmed. The feeling of impatience is often a consequence of feeling overwhelmed. You never achieve patience through brute force or rushing. I think of the idea of being underwhelmed as the calm state that comes with letting go of anxious feelings that destroy the easiness of life. The best way to let go is to breathe deeply and stretch your hands, letting this remind you that it is wise to stretch out your jobs, too. By just prioritizing your tasks and committing to do them one at a time, you loosen the grip that feeling overwhelmed has on you.
- Be patient with your patience. Patience requires a change of attitude. This cannot always happen with the flip of a switch. A great way to create a new attitude is to ask yourself, “What’s the bigger picture here?” This creates a state of productive curiosity that helps you to realize how many good things often happen over time. Don’t get too deep or complex about the big picture; simply know that when you broaden your perspective, you interrupt old patterns of impatience, which immediately opens the door to a fresh, new attitude.
Finally, remember that many of life’s miracles often do not happen quickly; they require patience. Illnesses and wounds heal best with patience. Life often reveals its mysteries with patience. Difficult problems sometimes solve themselves with patience. We grow into healthy, functioning adults with patience. Impatience is self-destructive because you tie yourself down with a rope of unhealthy thoughts — you now have five ways to cut the rope.
By the way, if you missed the fun of this year’s cicada infestation, just be patient — Brood III arrives in 2030. I’m sure the members of that graduating class will be ready for their big night under the stars.
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Copyright © 2013 Rob White
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