I’m not sure I really know much about patience. Well, that’s probably not true. I have been through things in life that demanded a great deal of patience (waiting for my unfaithful spouse to decide who he wanted to be with). And at times I was at peace with patience, other times not so much. In the end cultivating patience saved me from losing it. Note I said cultivating or growing patience. I was not “patient” as a verb and I don’t think anybody completely embodies the verb “patience.” In fact, I think it’s sort of like the definition of courage: doing things even though you are afraid. In my mind patience would be defined more like striving to increase one’s ability to endure, to wait, to gracefully come through difficult times. Using patience as a verb implies one either has it, or they don’t. This totally misses the point – because just when you think you’ve developed more patience, courage, self-discipline or whatever, you’ll probably be challenged to develop more.
I think this is the law of the universe, to keep us moving towards our best and healthiest selves. Right now I feel like I am more familiar with the state of impatience. So what’s wrong with impatience? First of all, it makes me pretty cranky because I feel like I’m losing out or being cheated out of some good thing that should have already happened. Because I’m cranky over what I haven’t gotten get, I miss what’s going on in the moment. And I forget about all the other good stuff in my life. I think that this is the state many people find themselves in regularly. Whether sweating over small stuff like long grocery lines and irritating drivers, or big stuff like waiting on a home to finally close!!! Living in an impatient state makes it difficult to be kind. At most we are indifferent to others, at worst we are creating a litany in our minds about the stupid cash register worker who is new and slow. We may not say anything out loud, but you can bet our internal monologue doesn’t make Joe or Jane’s day any better.
Joe or Jane will experience impatient customers all day long. Wouldn’t it be sort of radical, or at least a bit unusual, if we could do our best to be kind? It’s not the poor kid’s fault he or she is new. And on top of learning how to do everything, the new checkout guy or gal has to deal with openly rude customers or quietly irritated ones. I don’t think that patience is sexy right now. Even though the old adage “patience is a virtue” is still knocked around, what kind of relevance does that have in today’s world? Do people really think patience is a virtue? In this culture we are encouraged to work hard and succeed as individuals. There is little sense of success as a community. It’s all about “me” to the very real expense of “them” and actually, at the expense of ourselves as well.
Some European countries live at a much slower pace of life. I have read that some travelers find Belgium in particular maddeningly lethargic in comparison to the western lifestyle. And while Europeans tend to have less personal possessions and less personal income, they take great pride in community and what the community accomplishes together. Sometimes community just means a huge extended family, and sometimes it means a whole quarter of the city. People look out for each other, and that by itself is a huge community accomplishment. When we lack this in our lives, it is easy to be unkind and impatient. In truth, Western society is a fairly toxic one. There is nothing wrong with individual achievement, indeed, where would we be without folks like Einstein, Tesla or Edison? But often these “great minds” were, by many accounts, lonely and difficult people. It seems clear that the drive they possessed alienated them from their communities. This is where the idea of personal ambition falls down – when we are alienated from our communities and our true natures.
All you have to do is turn on the t.v. for a few minutes to realize that our society does not value patience or any of the good things that come with patience. We are bombarded and encouraged by media, friends and even the government to consume, consume, consume. Adverts encourage us to upgrade our cell phones so we can do more cool stuff faster. Commercials sell us a false narrative of our lives. If only we had Aveeno skin cream, or Allstate car insurance, or a closet full of disposable clothes, our lives would be wonderful. These possessions can become our totem, our god, who will protect us from any harm. And to get them we have to work like maniacs, ignore our personal needs and certainly the needs of those around us. So no, patience is not sexy. Do a Google search on patience and then try one on simple living. Simple living is super sexy. And if you can live more simply, patience should follow. But only if it’s cultivated.
When stuff is our god, consumption is our worship and work/commitments are our biblical tribulations, we constantly need more. And we need more faster and faster to quiet the sense of emptiness this lifestyle creates. In my own mind, I have the imaginary narrative of how my life will improve once my family moves into our new house. I imagine it must be so much better than now. And I am very impatient to begin my “new better life” sponsored by…you’ve got it…my new home. In doing so, I give a “thing” great power over me. I also devalue myself and necessarily deem my current life less worthwhile. I believe that this is what we are doing constantly when stuck in the consumer lifestyle. We are in fact judging our current lives and our current selves as lacking and if we get the perfect thing, maybe we’ll have a much better life and be a better person. This really is not a crazy leap – you see adverts all the time where the perfect outfit is implied to make you more successful, popular, sexy, etc.
Society feeds our impatience – and who benefits in the end. Do we benefit from this crazy lifestyle? The only person I see benefiting in this equation is not a person. It is a myriad of corporations who now hold a great deal of power over us. In my analogy, they could be our places of worship since they provide a way for us to access our god, stuff. And like the corrupt papacy of old, the corporations grow obscenely fat on the backs of our hard work and exploit our feelings of guilt and inadequacy. If that wasn’t enough, the stuff gods require us to sacrifice the well-being of our neighbors. Jobs that once paid a decent living wage have disappeared to far off lands where workers are exploited to provide cheap goods (gods). Smog fills the air of Chinese cities that manufacture goods (gods) for the west.
We are accelerating the loss of precious resources. Our cheap gods are in expensive in every sense of the word: they are false, they will not make us happy, they will destroy lives, they will destroy natural resources. If we live in thrall to our consumer gods, we are necessarily distancing ourselves from any sort of authentic spiritual life. By using stuff as gods, as the things that will protect us and get us the life we want, we are turning our backs on spirituality and faith. Why would we need faith when we have tangible objects that will improve our lives? Faith is the antithesis to impatience. Patience and faith are closely related. When you have faith you don’t need to buy crap to protect yourself. You can start to free yourself from the false gods, the false narrative that stuff creates. You can cultivate patience.
Of course, faith is not a verb either. It’s not a thing that you do or do not have. It’s a thing you practice. And this is all hard fucking work! No wonder folks would rather consume. The big difference is – stuff can go away at any time. The stuff god is fickle, it cannot protect you or make life better. However, if you cultivate faith and patience, you develop skills and maturity. And if you ever do lose your stuff – or something worse than stuff – faith and patience can save your life. You can check out some ideas on how to practice patience here: