After an almost two year sabbatical, I found myself back in therapy. Okay, I guess I didn’t “find myself back there,” I chose to go back. See here’s the thing with depression and anxiety, it tends to never go away. I always know when it’s getting bad again because my brain feels like it is on speed. Racing from one thought, worry, obsession to the next. No control. No filter. See, if these thoughts were at all helpful, anxiety wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but instead the normal thought whirlwind goes something like…
Did I leave the oven on? No. But I need to figure out what to make for dinner tonight. If I can make dinner tonight. I have so much to do and there’s no time to do it in. This meeting is taking forever. What time is it? Oh my gosh, I wonder if they saw me looking at my watch. I’m sure they did. Now they are going to think I’m bored or not listening. I hate it when people don’t listen. People never listen to me. How am I going to be successful if I can’t even get people to listen to me? Maybe it’s not my fault. Maybe I just have terrible people in my life. Well, then it must be my fault that I have terrible people in my life. Oh we are finally done. I wonder if I said the right things?
I could go on but I think you get the point. Welcome to my anxiety. As you can see, when my anxiety increases I start blaming people, mostly myself, for the discomfort I’m feeling. I find every single reason that my life isn’t perfect and dissect it until… well, I create a mess in every area.
My new therapist recommended I read a book about the practice of mindfulness, or being fully aware and in the present moment. I have just started it and I love it so far. One of my favorite chapters, though, has been the chapter on patience. In the book, the author describes patience as ceasing to try to “get anywhere else” within the present moment. In other words, you aren’t looking to the problems of the past or the possibilities of the future. You are here, now, with this moment. “Remembering things unfold in their time.”
With this definition then, impatience is not wanting things the way they are in the moment. Impatience is the relative of anger and blame. When we want to change the present we are saying that our wants and needs are more important than the situation at hand. Not only that, but someone CAN and SHOULD change this moment. I totally get that. I think that way.
These passages about patience, though, also reminded me of the chapter in Ecclesiastes wherein the author poetically describes the many times of life. “For everything there is a season…A time to be born and a time to die…A time to break down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh…”
I have studied this passage repeatedly in many settings, but by removing any prior meaning or knowledge, I see this passage fitting in with the practice of patient mindfulness. Through recognizing the present situation in life, whether it is new life, death, mourning, or celebrating, one can more fully live in the moment. So much of our life is trying to change that given moment or move past it, instead of living in it.
Okay, you say, if I just “live in the moment” my life will be great, right? Not necessarily. The acceptance of our current experience does not make its reality any easier, but through this acceptance we cultivate patience. The book tells the story of the Dalai Lama and his lack of anger toward the Chinese government killed, tortured, and imprisoned his people for years. When asked about this, he said “They have taken everything from us; should I let them take my mind as well?” In that wise response, he outlined why patience is crucial. We must understand that anger, impatience, and blame cause greater self-harm and pain than any difficult situation may cause in this present moment. He’s a guy I wouldn’t mind emulating.
Every moment or time in life is connected to the one before it and the one following it, though some connections are disjointed and random, but as mortals all we have access to is this present moment. Therefore, whether the moment is full of grief, anger, or joy, be present to it. For if each present moment is given the attention it requires, the moment will no longer lend itself to blame, but instead to peace and compassion for yourself and others. Here’s to a year of cultivating patience.
May we all be more open to our given moments, even through pain and even through joy. May we find peace in knowing that all we can do is what this present moment presents to use. May we cultivate the patience that the present rhythm of our never-ceasing breaths beckons us toward.
**The book mentioned in the post is Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn