By Dr. Victor S. Sierpina
"Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well” — quote from an 8-year-old.
The good book says, “Love is patient, Love is kind….”
What is it about being patient that elevates it right up there between love and kindness?
Perhaps, like me, you occasionally have problems with being patient. This can even happen with those closest to us, those we know and love so well. At these moments, we may feel deflated, considering ourselves spiritual failures. Though we aspire to the stars of generosity and love, a simple domestic moment of impatience can ground us in the humility of how challenging it is to be patient and kind
And how about patience with strangers? This is where the virtue of being patient really is, well, a virtue. Rather than road rage at a slow or sloppy driver, rather than tapping your foot and glaring at your watch because of a new checkout clerk handling a fussy customer, rather than yelling at your kid to hurry up to get ready for school for the umpteenth time … perhaps patience is the solution.
Patience is healthy for you, you know. It is the antidote to stress. When we are patient, we give up on our own timetable and respect that of others, of the universe, of divine order, of the cosmic clock of events beyond our immediate control.
What we can control when things aren’t going according to our pace is our emotional reaction to them. This reduces all those nasty blood pressure raising, headache inducing, and heart unhealthy stress hormones and chemicals from coursing through our bodies. Patience is the antidote to the stress response. Patience gives us back our sanity, our perspective, and allows us to be kind and unselfish with an overly talkative person, a balky child, a rude dude and even with our own lack of perfection.
Always remember too, that being patient with ourselves is difficult yet is the fountainhead of our patience for others. Roshe Joan Halifax said it this way: “May I see my own limits with compassion, just as I view the limits of others.” Sounds a bit like “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” doesn’t it?
My patients have also learned patience, hence the term, “patient.” They dutifully show up for their appointed visit and, as often as not, have to wait longer than they or I would like them to. When someone decides to have a heart attack in the office, or a routine 20 minute recheck turns into a 40-minute, 12-item organ recital, things inevitably get off track. I am challenged to remain patient during such schedule issues.
All we physicians appreciate how our patients generously must struggle to remain patient, too. Medicine and life can be and are often unpredictable. So make it a daily effort to stay patient, kind and loving in the midst of the wonderful chaos of our world.
Here are some methods I use to bring myself back to patience when I feel irritated or
impatient with a person or situation:
- Mindfulness: This means being in the present moment, nonjudgmental, with deep and focused listening.
- Flow: According to Lao Tzu, we can emulate the stillness of water by going with the flow.
- Forgiveness: We all have our craziness and imperfections. Cut others some slack with theirs.
- Avoid Time-sickness: Time is an illusion, divine order prevails, and perhaps that slow driver ahead may be preventing you from a crash. Each of these concepts is a way to reorder your thinking. It will help you to get over this dread affliction, time sickness, that often leads to impatience and its many unhealthy outcomes.
- Planning: Be realistic when you can by not trying to cram 15 minutes of activity into 5 minutes, say, dashing into a store to pick up a last-minute item when you have to be someplace else soon. Trying to hurry and do too much sets you up for impatience and frustration. Reschedule, replan, defer until you have adequate time and leisure to accomplish your task without haste and with joy.
- Kindness: creating space for someone to be who they are, letting go of petty annoyances and listening for the meaning between the words all will allow the virtue of patience to flow.
So, during this holiday season, amid all the clamor and chaos, strive to maintain a balanced perspective. Be patient. Kindness and love will flow through you, around you and back to you.
Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.