Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Practice of Patience

"In the Moment"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

Yesterday, I stood in the checkout line at a local supermarket. In front of me was a dad with his two young sons who were excitedly talking about a Memorial Day barbeque at their home later that afternoon. The two boys tugged at their dad with an urgent plea: “C’mon daddy, let’s get out of here, we cant wait to get back home and go swimming.” But it was the dad’s response that especially caught my attention:’ “Have a little patience boys, we’ll get there eventually.”

I think that response to those “impatient” boys struck me so much because it was quite “iconic”  of how most people understand what “being patient” is all about.

Like those two boys at the market, it seems to me as if lots of people nowadays just can’t wait. They can’t wait to go swimming, they can’t wait for the next big event, the next holiday, the upcoming vacation. Lots of people “just can’t wait” to get the new house or the next job or they can’t wait for school to be finished.  The problem is, of course, that when the next big thing finally comes along it very often does not live up to our “great expectations,” and so people often feel “let down.” And then of course, it’s time to think about the next thing big thing for which we just can’t wait.

Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until my later years in life that I finally began to have a clue about what waiting patiently means, and to be honest, until rather recently I never quite understood why patience was such a highly-prized virtue.

Why would sitting around and doing nothing while patiently waiting for the next thing to happen be such a positive trait?  Standing in line at a supermarket, waiting in a doctor’s office, waiting for the document to print, waiting at a signal light, waiting for the expected phone call, all this waiting stuff seemed like a real burden to me. I considered “waiting” time to be a necessary evil and I figured that if you had to wait for something to happen, you might as well do it patiently because “eventually” the thing you were waiting for would (hopefully) happen. I used to think that patience was something like “biting the bullet” until something better came along,

More recently I have come to a very different understanding of what patience means and why it is such an important discipline on any spiritual path. I have come to realize that patience has nothing to do with waiting for the future to happen. Patience is a spiritual discipline that keeps us focused in the moment, in the here and now. Patience is another word for practicing mindfulness.

Priest and author, Henri Nouwen, once offered this helpful wisdom:

A waiting person is a patient person.
The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are
and live the situation to the full
in the belief that something hidden there
will manifest itself in the moment.

I think of all the wonders I may have missed in my life because I didn’t practice the discipline of patience –the willingness to "stay where I was in the moment in the belief that something hidden there would manifest itself." I have come to believe that standing in line at the market can be just as wonderful as the upcoming picnic.

Now that June is almost here and the afternoon temperatures make their way up into the triple digits, most everything here in the desert goes into a “hibernation mode.” All the tourists have gone back home, the festivals are over, even some of the local restaurants close for these summer months and there are few if any people out walking on the wilderness trails.  A profound sense of utter “peace and quiet” now descends upon the desert unlike any other time of the year.  It is a perfect season for waiting in the moment and practicing the discipline of patience.

Many centuries ago Saint Augustine said:

Patience is the companion of wisdom.

I say Amen to that.

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