I noticed the erratic driver on the Northwest route into Omaha about five miles from the city limits. I couldn’t tell if the driver was a woman or a man, the very large pickup truck had dark, tinted windows. The vehicle’s horn blasted away every few seconds. The pickup weaved between lanes on the four lane road, surely the driver was in a hurry to arrive at some destination. Other drivers were compelled to apply their brakes and a few cars needed to practice evasive measures. What had been an uneventful, peaceful, and pleasant drive had become tense and dangerous, after the passage of the pickup truck.
Ten minutes later, I felt a smile on my face when I noticed the flashing blue strobe lights of a State Trooper at the side of the highway. The pickup was parked just in front of the police vehicle and an officer was walking towards the offending truck. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person on the road experiencing Schadenfreude, the joy of another’s misfortune.
The impatience of the pickup truck driver is nothing arcane nor rare. Evidence of more impatience could be seen further along the road from other drivers. It was even more evident once I reached the downtown district. Nebraskans are no more immune from impatience than New Yorkers, Mumbians, or Romans.
It seems that impatience is an agitated state of mind that sweeps into the mind and blocks awareness and manifests as unhappiness and unsatisfactory, suffering emotions. Sometimes there’s the presence of anxiety, yet other times there is boredom.
All of us can become impatient instantly. The only prescription for avoidance of impatience is awareness.
My personal experience is telling. I like to put up a façade of calm and serenity when I begin feeling impatient. Then when I realise that I’m wearing a façade, I realize that I’m being impatient about being impatient. If I don’t realize what I’m doing, a friend or acquaintance will point out my behavior to me. It can be embarassing.
As long as I can remember, the ability of something to be instant has been held up as a very high attribute. It might be instant coffee or instant global communication, if it happens in a split second, it must be good.
At one time, electronic communication took place via telegraphy. To communicate with another person in another town, a person had to physically go to the telegraph office, write or dictate the message and then pay the clerk. Then the clerk tapped out the message in Morse Code on his keyset. The message was picked up in the office of the town where the recipient lived. The code was transcribed into regular language, then a message boy delivered the telegram to the recipient’s home or hotel room. Hopefully, the boy received a thoughtful monetary tip as a reward. All of this might take an hour or more to perform. This was considered to be miraculously fast in the 1800s.
These days, we might become upset if a video or webpage fails to load onto our web device within a nano-second after we click on it. Can you imagine if you were required to wait for a telegram? Instant is what we become accustomed to.
Impatience is the inability to accept or tolerate annoyance, delay, or difficulty. This inability shows up as anxiety, anger, or upset emotions of some sort. Can we get through one day without experiencing annoyance, anger, or some measure of difficulty? Probably not. Will we feel impatience for even a moment today? We probably will. If we’re honest, we’ll admit it.
After my “red-headed temper” had been brought to my attention for the umpteenth time, I decided to pay closer attention to my reactions to annoying situations and things. I already knew that impatience made most situations worse. It took supreme attention to focus on how I was treating myself whenever impatience arose in my mind. The stress and tension were very noticeable. I realized I was not being compassionate to myself. Without internal compassion, how could I be compassionate towards others?
Just by noticing my compassion deficit, I could feel the beginnings of equanimity and patience. It felt like a time-out. The unpleasant situation didn’t change, but my attitude towards it, did. It took a lot of practice to make awareness of stress and impatience to take hold. Even so, when the going gets really tough, I can still feel impatience welling up inside.
At the first glimmer of impatience, I try my best to retain awareness of my mindstates. First I admit that I’m becoming impatient. Second, I pay attention to the symptoms that the impatient mind state is causing to my thinking and body. This attention is probably the most important step, so I investigate my experience as it happens. Then, third, I become aware of my lack of internal compassion, which then triggers me to cultivate compassion and patience for myself.
Another effective way to dial down my impatience when I don’t have time to analyze my mindstates, is to take a few deep breaths and uncouple from the situation, if possible. If I’m waiting forever in line at the supermarket, I look over the headlines on the tabloids and gossip magazines and enjoy a humorous moment. Waiting in traffic or at a railroad crossing, I check out the buildings or landscape nearby. Maybe I notice an interesting car, then I try to figure out why the stylist designed the body and trim the way it appears.
If the impatient situation is person to person, then I realize I need to shut up and take some breaths. In just focusing on my breathing, awareness returns, and I can calm down.
Once, when the topic of impatience came up, one of my friends quoted a highly esteemed Theravedan monk. I’ll paraphrase what he said. “You’ll suddenly come to the shocking realization that you’re totally crazy. Your mind is full of shrieking, gibbering monkeys causing distraction while you plummet out of control and feel hopeless. When you realize this state of affairs, you just let go. There’s no problem.”
Eventually, time will change the situation. The transformation of impatience into patience is an art worth learning and practicing. Things are the way they are. It’s good to calmly accept this reality.
The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this pithy Dutch adage: “A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains.”