The Gift of Impatience

Patience. On the wall in the physiotherapy room, I spotted the word emblazoned near the ceiling.

The word has tailgated me my entire life. Sometimes as a compliment and sometimes as a taunt.

But mostly my life has been a dance with its opposite.

Impatience is familiar. Even after mindfulness training and the Eckhardt Tolle class, I find it hard to stay in the here and now.

I recognize the trait in a client. She wants a job that isn’t dreadful. She longs to find work that excites her. She wants to quit her job immediately. Being unemployed feels a lot better than this.

I remember that feeling. When I was 20 years old and 5 months pregnant, I woke in the middle of a night dreading the day ahead of me. My work was a series of routine paper pushing, doing all necessary details to clear shipments through customs. I never saw the goods; everyday I saw the same 5 people. Nice people. The same people.

I was in a hands-on learning environment finding out that I was quite challenged to do repetitive work. I felt like a part of me was dying. For a long time before my middle-of-the-night terror, I had a strong urge to quit. I resisted the desire. I tried to emulate the other people in the office. They had done it for years. What was wrong with me?

I tried to motivate myself with pep talks and apple fritters and a fresh perspective.

Some of it worked. For a while.

What I was discovering about myself was I didn’t do very well with routine tasks. Especially repetition. So I changed the routine. As much as I could.

So when my client talked about her grim work scene, I nodded. I remembered my own desire to throw up my hands. What I didn’t tell her was my solution the morning after my abrupt awakening, was to hand in my resignation.

I was young then, having no regard to what I would be doing for the last 4 months of my pregnancy or if someone would even hire a pregnant woman. My patience had worn out.

I didn’t tell my client about how I solved my problem because she had to find her own solution and there are lots of ways to solve a problem other than walking out. 

One of them is to listen to the wisdom that impatience can each. Resisting the force of wanting to do something right now and sit with the discomfort of impatience is a great tool. Much more mature than my impulse when I quit my job.

This year, in my life, my body – specifically my knee – is teaching me about patience. At the end of January, I had knee replacement surgery. Physiotherapy begins within 24 hours of the surgery.

Seven days after surgery, I am in the physiotherapy department. For 7 days I have bent and straightened my leg every 2 hours, pushing myself further than my knee wants to go. I am a model patient.

My degree of bend is measured. 55 degrees.

Six weeks later, my knee is at 101 degrees, an increase of 1 degree over the previous week. A plateau they say.

Even though I have done the exercises faithfully. And pushed hard each day.

In considering my frustration, I realize it is excitement about getting the bend back in my leg that propelled me towards the surgery. I was ready to move. And the fact was that I could not.

I was feeling quite impatient with the process. As I considered my options, I understood that I could not be anywhere other than where I was. As much as I wanted the knee to bend, it did not. How exactly was this exercising helping? 

I started thinking about my impatience companion. All of my experience in life so far with it has led me to this definition – impatience is about being in a place where I don’t want to be. 

All those years ago when I was frustrated with my customs clearance job, I definitely did not want to be there.

By definition, impatience is a lack of patience. But is it something by itself? Does it have something to teach us? 

The biggest trouble with impatience is it is such an uncomfortable feeling. Irritability. Exasperation. Annoyance. Big feelings. There is an immediate desire to do something, just to get rid of the feelings. One of the hardest things to do is to befriend it.

What I noticed when I looked at little harder was there was not much I could do about the situation. No matter how hard I wished it to be different. What I then saw was a deep desire. I longed to move freely. I longed for Zumba class.

The well of desire was primal. Innately, humans need to move. 

We want to create, contribute, expand, enjoy, experience.

Could I look at my impatience in a new way? As a driving force rather than a limiting feeling?

To think about what it is that I truly want.

I was so caught up in doing, I was far removed from being. It is my beingness in the world where my well of desires resided. It was time to regroup. The first stop was acceptance.

As much as I wanted it to be different, my knee had limited movement. 

When I think about my client who was feeling the agitation to be somewhere other than where she was, I know the road that brought her to me was paved with many desires. Somehow she found a side road, one full of obligations and what the world wanted her to be.

Her impatience is what fuelled her to find some other way of leading her life. Her side road had come to a dead end. She was ready to accept that she could not continue doing what she was doing.

Her impatience brought her here. As uncomfortable as it was, it pushed her away from doing what she had always been doing and into new territory.

We are on the cusp of spring where the light of day and night is equal, where the plants are awakening. I am thinking about seeds and the mystery of what comes up from the ground, how a plant pushes its way through unlikely places. My impatience is like that, a seemingly unlikely place where beauty arises.