Patience

I’ve always struggled with waiting. I’m not a patient person by nature. It took me ages to learn how to constructively pass time waiting for something major I wanted to happen, like moving to a new apartment or going on a vacation. Initially I would “kill time”, distracting myself from my longing. With practice, I got better at making use of my time – doing preparatory tasks, or getting things done that I’d been putting off.

Unfortunately, these skills have not been especially helpful when I’ve had to wait an indeterminate amount of time for something I want. This is always because it depends on circumstances outside my control; often, there is an element of uncertainty as to whether it will happen at all.

Yesterday, I experienced a moment of acceptance about those uncertain events. What I noticed during that moment was that I was focusing on what my current life is like. I realized that I often fixate on potential future realities, thereby missing out on a lot that’s going on in the present.

It then occurred to me that I often avoid thinking about the present because I end up noticing what I don’t like about it more than anything. (This may be at least in part due to my perfectionism.) I start imagining ways my life could be better, and so the longing is reinforced.

But in this moment I experienced, I was seeing things I normally wouldn’t notice. Little things. Stories going on around me. I even noticed my own story, as though I were watching a movie about myself. It’s very difficult to describe, much like what happens when I try to explain why I like a painting.

I then realized that there are many times when I’m on autopilot, and later I can’t remember if I’ve done something important. Did I lock the door? Did I turn off the lights? I have no clear memories of these events and worry that I’ve missed some key step. But if I were watching my life like a movie, each scene would have its own little meaning, something it was contributing to the overall story. So I would be paying attention to all those little details.

So the same solution for my impatience also works for my memory. I find this very interesting: focusing on the future undermines my ability to form memories, thus affecting my perception of the past. The longer I spend thinking about something that may or may not happen, the more I miss about what’s happening right now. And I don’t get that time back. I don’t get to rewind and replay this movie.

I don’t want to miss out on my life by constantly waiting for it to become some ideal version of itself. I’m starting to understand better what people mean when they talk about living life to the fullest. The present moment is this amazing thing that barely exists, like a seam between the past and the future, yet it is the only part of our timeline that we have any control over whatsoever. If we focus on it, we can use it to sculpt a past we can reflect on and enjoy, as well as navigate towards a future we can be excited about. But the only way to really do that is to surrender both past and future.

This doesn’t mean we never think about the past or future, just that we focus on the present. The word “focus” is awesome because it holds this hidden notion that there are other things in our field of view which we can notice without looking directly at them. The past and future fall into our peripheral vision this way.

I know this is going to be very challenging to implement, but it’s a process I expect to enjoy. And yes, I realize that it’s a little ironic that I’m looking forward to this process.

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