The (Underrated) Power of Patience
The Back Story
So I have this tweaky back problem. It all started with an ill-advised wrestling match with my big and heavy cat who was decidedly uninterested in yet another trip to the vet. The scene: Skeptical husband is holding the dreaded cat carrier underneath Max the cat. KP, never one to allow said husband’s skepticism to stand between her and any goal, tries once, twice, three times to, well, shove uninterested, nay openly resistant Max through a cat carrier doorway not quite fit for purpose. KP zigs, Max zags…and with a crack, the back says “no way.” Max 1, KP and the Vet 0. .
As I have alluded in other missives, I as Dr Overgritty, have been known to overdo things to my own detriment. Translation: I have not been very kind to my back ever since. I have seen this phenomenon with athletes, where an injury becomes a battle. They start to disown the body part in question, as a way to cope with its lack of cooperation with their Grand Plans. In the case of my own dodgy back, I did not have time for this. As well, the pain, and its subsequent limitations, were annoying. Mix in a dollop of pandemic-laced angst, grief and fear that my father, who was in declining health, would not survive until my long-delayed visit back to the USA from Australia, and I was, as my daughter would say, a hot mess.
When The Body Tells A Story? Best to Listen
My emotional and functional injury journey has been quite revealing. I have been on the mend several times only to—either through not-so-benign neglect, semi-unconscious self-punishment, or sheer lack of thought—induce several set-backs. The most recent one was caused by a massage of all things. The massage itself was great. Sitting non-stop in my desk chair through four Zoom consults immediately afterward? Not so much. When I finally stood up from my chair, I was crippled. Can we say (dryly) that perhaps, once again, I over-indexed on grit for no good effect??
The massage therapist mused that I might have brought on some “structural change.” WTF? Interestingly, I found myself feeling obscurely angry at the massage therapist. For what, exactly? For not protecting me against myself, apparently. :)
Thankfully, a subsequent visit to a Physiotherapist revealed no serious or structural damage, only some additional level of strain. I will say that the psychological effect of that announcement was profound in that, until then, I did not know how much I was bracing against the possibility of a long-term self-inflicted wound. And with the news and the confidence that I was in fact more okay than not, my pain reduced by 50%. The situation did not change, only my emotional relationship to it. Spoiler alert, this psych stuff really works! Who knew?
Now as I embark on yet another journey toward more mobility and less pain, I’m rediscovering the wisdom and value of patience. Can’t say that I’ve ever been too fond of that word. Some of you life veterans may recall the line, Patience, young grasshopper! an oft-repeated chestnut of presumed wisdom from the Shaolin monk master to his student from the 1970's television show Kung Fu. Whatever. It’s the kind of word that exasperated but well-meaning parents say to their children. Or rather order them, as in “please be patient!“ “Will you just be patient!” And then there’s the curse of the well-meaning platitude, “patience is a virtue.” For the passive, maybe. For the doormat. For the Caspar Milquetoast of a person who just waits their way through life. I have yet to meet an athlete, coach, or any other gritty performer who trumpets the virtues of patience.
To clarify, here’s what Dictionary.com has to say about patience.
The bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.
Quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence: to work with patience.
Reflecting on this gave me pause. I realised that my fight with patience is much like an often-heard lament of the unvaccinated: I don’t want to get vaccinated because I don’t like being told what to do. My fraught relationship with patience had as much to do with so often being ordered to do it, as it did with the qualities associated with the term. But it turns out that I love the words associated with the quality of patience. It’s the idea of surrendering to, not fighting against, life’s downs. Quiet, steady perseverance (kind of sounds like some good-shit grit to me!), even-tempered care…I want me some more of that.
So, there I was, having to be consciously careful about something that I have had the luxury of (at the least) neglecting/abusing my entire life. This time, I slowed down. I got up more regularly from my desk chair. I stretched. As I did these things, I also meditated regularly on my situation--literally to the part of the back that was in pain-- and realised that when I could do so with some kindness, I felt more positive and connected. To myself, my back, and even the pain. As well, I discovered a newfound sense of internal spaciousness. I was able to relax more. My relationship to that stressed and strained part became, well, more patient.
The power of patience? It’s in the sense of spaciousness, the even-tempered-ness. Surrendering to this reality with kindness. When we can live the qualities of patience in light of life’s uncertainties, or when things don’t go our way, or when our pain makes us uncomfortable, we cope better and suffer less. If that isn’t a quality gritty people should aspire for more of, I don’t know what is.
Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.
Robert H. Schuller
My father did, in the end, make it to (and through) my visit, improbably surviving until just a couple weeks ago, my pre-trip angst and worry notwithstanding. I have learned powerful lessons about the perils of attachment and control, grief, family, the mysteries that are life and death, and most of all, love. Just you wait. :)
If patience is something you know you struggle with and would like some help implementing for yourself…or you notice that your team has a tendency to mistake impatience for smart action (but bad results), do reach out. I can help untangle and get you or your team working better with the mind for easier performance.
Let me know what you think!
In case you missed my main message :), I believe that high performance shouldn't hurt people. I provide individual and group coaching on how to achieve the performance goals you want without hurting yourself or your people in the process. In ways that are healthier, happier, and more sustainable. If you want more information or have questions, you can reach me at email@example.com