Read an Excerpt
HOW THIS OLD-FASHIONED VIRTUE CAN IMPROVE YOUR LIFE
I pray for patience.
And I want it RIGHT NOW!
* Some McDonald's are promising lunch in ninety seconds or it's free.
* The average doctor visit now lasts eight minutes.
* An over-the-counter drug is marketed for women who "don't have time for a yeast infection."
* Politicians currently take a mere 8.2 seconds to answer a question, regardless of the complexity of the topic.
* A popular all-you-can-eat buffet in Tokyo charges by the minute--the faster you eat, the cheaper it is.
* Kodak is launching one-hour film development shops at Disney World, in hotel lobbies, and in amusement parks so you can have your pictures before the vacation is over.
* The head of Hitachi's portable computer division motivates his workers with the slogan: "Speed is God, and time is the devil."
* Developers of high rises have discovered an upward limit to the number of floors--the amount of time people are willing to wait for elevators. Fifteen seconds is what feels best; if it stretches to forty, we freak out.
All of us these days, it seems, spend our lives rushing around. We're in constant motion, and we expect everything and everyone around us to go faster as well. As technology watcher David Shenk notes, between our modems and our speed dials, faxes, beepers, and FedEx, "Quickness has disappeared from our culture. We now only experience degrees of slowness." Writer James Gleick says it more bluntly--we're all suffering from "hurry sickness," a term first coined by Meyer Friedman, the identifier of the Type A personality.
I know I have it. I can't stand how slowly my computer boots up. I actually timed it recently; it took two minutes and I was fidgeting the whole time. I'm the person pushing the elevator button more than once to make it come faster. I hit the pound key to bypass the message on other people's voice mail. And I use the one-minute button on the microwave because it's quicker than punching in the time myself.
This is how bad I've got it. Yesterday, I went to my local copy shop. I made my copies and was standing in line, waiting to pay. The young man behind the counter was struggling to help a very old lady figure out how to send a package to her grandchild. There's one other person in line in front of me. My inner monologue goes like this: Lines, I hate lines. Why can't they get enough help in here? (Fume.) Why can't they at least post how much they charge for copies so I could pay without waiting? (A minute passes. More fuming.) I don't have time for this. I've got more important things to do. I can't just stand here. I have to get home and write this book on patience.
I can't take it anymore. I blurt out from my place in line, "How much for a copy?" "Ten cents," replies the flustered young man. Flinging down a dollar for my forty-cent purchase, I storm out of the store, the irony of the situation not occurring to me until I am driving away.
Another word for hurry sickness is impatience, and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one suffering from it. Road rage, violence of all sorts, blowups at the office, divorce, yelling at our kids . . . all of these and many other of the world's ills can be traced at least in part to a lack of patience.
Recently the state of California has been running public service announcements to "slow for the cone zone." It's a campaign to get drivers to slow from sixty-five to fifty-five miles per hour in construction areas because so many workers have been killed. The ads inform listeners that the time difference between going fifty-five and sixty-five in a one-mile construction area is ten seconds. People are getting killed because we're not willing to get somewhere ten-seconds-a-mile later!
Indeed it appears that the faster things go, the less patience we are able to muster. This is a problem because life inevitably has a certain degree of delay in the form of lines, traffic jams, and automated message systems. More important, our lack of patience creates difficulties because the more complex of life's challenges--illness, disability, relationship conflicts, job crises, parenting issues, to name a few--require that we practice patience in order not merely to cope, but to grow in love and wisdom.
Without patience, we can't truly learn from the lessons life throws at us; we're unable to mature. We remain at the stage of irritable babies, unable to delay gratification more than momentarily, unable to work toward what we truly want in any dedicated way. If we want to live wider and deeper lives, not just faster ones, we have to practice patience--patience with ourselves, with other people, and with the big and small circumstances of life itself.
I know we're longing to put more patience in our lives because I've published over two hundred books and written twenty-two. Never before had people said to me so emphatically, "I need that!" when I told them what I was working on. But with this book, every person who heard of it said something to that effect. The world is going faster and faster and we are all trying to keep up. Never before has patience been more needed--and never has it been in such short supply.
But we can change that. With the right attitudes and a bit of practice, we can learn to harness the power of patience in our lives. If I, a speeded-up, Type A, overachieving middle-aged woman can do it, so can you. It's a combination of motivation (wanting to), awareness (paying attention to our inner landscape), and cultivation (practicing).
We can do it because patience is a human quality that can be strengthened. We have what we need. We're patient already--how else did we get through school, learn to love, find a job? We're just not always aware of what helps us be patient, what triggers our impatience, or what to do when our patience wears thin.
The most important thing to know is that patience is something you do, not something you have or don't have. It's like a muscle. We all have muscles, but some people are stronger than others because they work out.
The same is true with patience. Some of us may be better at it right now, but each of us can develop more with practice. That's what this book is all about.
The Power of Patience looks at the importance of patience--what it can do for us, why it's so crucial now, and how to become more patient. It does this from a broad spiritual and inspirational point of view, using my own stories as well as ideas from centuries of wisdom on the topic from around the world. It springs from my quest to live a happy and meaningful life, and my passion to help others do the same.
This has been a lifelong search for me, but it began to take shape about ten years ago, when I, as the executive editor of Conari Press, put together a little book with some friends called Random Acts of Kindness. It seemed like a good idea at the time--let's do nice little things for strangers--but when I began to see and hear about the effects it was having, I began to sense I had stumbled onto something very important. Suddenly I was inundated with letters from people telling me of the joy they had experienced as either a doer or a receiver of these acts. The letter I will never forget was from a high school student who said he was going to kill himself, until he read our book and decided that maybe life was worth living.
I became fascinated with the power of kindness to create happiness, and went on to help write a series of books on the topic. And I began to try to become more kind, both to strangers and those I am close to. And lo and behold, just like the boy who didn't kill himself, I got happier.
Then I began to wonder, If kindness can have such a positive effect, what other qualities right under our noses could have similar results? I turned my attention to gratitude, and discovered that the more I cultivated a sense of appreciation for all that I had, the happier and less fearful I was. Again, I wrote about my experiences, this time in Attitudes of Gratitude, which also seemed to strike a chord. And once again, I received many letters, this time about the power of gratitude.
My study of gratitude, the awareness of all that we are receiving, led me naturally to generosity, the giving of ourselves and our resources to someone else, in The Giving Heart, which then led me, naturally, to patience. For the more we cultivate patience, the happier and more peaceful we are, even if things don't always turn out the way we want.
Using a bit more patience, I could have waited calmly for the (maybe) five minutes it would have taken to pay at the copy shop. I would not have had those negative feelings of irritation and anger, and I would not have upset the other people in the store. My blood pressure would have remained low, my immune system strong. I would have been more content--even while waiting!
Indeed, the longer I study and practice patience, the more I've come to see that it is a crucial factor in whether we have satisfying lives or not. Patience gives us self-control, the capacity to stop and be in the present moment. From that place we can make wise choices. Patience helps us be more loving toward others, more at ease with the circumstances of our lives, and more able to get what we want. It constantly rewards us with the fruits of maturity and wisdom: healthier relationships, higher-quality work, and peace of mind. It accomplishes this magic by bringing together three essential qualities of mind and heart that allow us to be and do our best: persistence, serenity, and acceptance.
STICK-TO-IT-NESS: THE POWER OF PERSISTENCE
Patience gives us stick-to-it-ness, the ability to work steadily toward our goals and dreams. Recent research in emotional intelligence demonstrates that the effect of such persistence can equal many IQ points. Asian students in the United States are thought to be, on average, within one or two IQ points of Caucasians. But because they are usually taught persistence when young, they end up, as a group, behaving as though they have a much higher average IQ and are disproportionately represented in top universities and highly intellectual professions.
I once read an interview with the founder of Fast Company magazine, one of the few dot-com-related media still standing after the dot bust. He had had an idea to create a magazine that reflected the new ideas of the times and he pursued it despite huge obstacles. He borrowed against his personal credit cards and stormed the country, trying to get investors. No takers. But he passionately believed in his idea and refused to give up. Literally the day he was down to his last dime and had run out of options, he made the connection that led to the founding of the magazine--and ultimately to his selling it to a publishing conglomerate for a huge sum.
Stories abound about folks who persisted despite the odds, before finally achieving great success. Walt Disney, for instance, was turned down 302 times before he got financing for Disneyland. George Lucas put up his own money to make Star Wars because no one believed in his vision. By the time the movie came out, he was completely broke. But he ended up becoming phenomenally wealthy precisely because he had been unable to sell any of the rights to the film or sequels.
Patiently continuing on despite obstacles doesn't mean that we will necessarily reap the kind of huge reward Mr. Fast Company, Walt Disney, or George Lucas did. But it sure increases the odds that we will make our own personal dreams come true, whatever they are.
NO REASON TO STRESS: THE POWER OF SERENITY
Patience also gives us calmness of spirit. With patience, our inner experience is more like a still pond than a raging river. Rather than being thrown into anger, panic, or fear by every circumstance life throws at us--a canceled plane, a missed deadline by a workmate, our spouse forgetting to do an errand--we are able to put it into some kind of perspective that allows us to keep our cool.
With this composure, rather than being the miserable kvetch who upsets everyone around us, we're the ones people look to for comfort and humor when things go awry. Jesuit priest and author Anthony de Mello describes this attitude when he writes, "All is well, all is well. Though everything is a mess, all is well."
With patience, we are more able to stay calm on the inside no matter what is happening on the outside. We trust in our capacity to deal with whatever comes our way. And that trust gives great peace of mind.
One reason for this is that a synonym for patience is self-possession. I love that word; it helps me remember that, with patience, we are in charge of our selves. We can choose how to respond to a given event, rather than being hijacked by our emotions. In this way, patience is like a keel on a boat--it allows us to keep our stability in the stormiest of seas while continuing to move in the direction we desire.