Discover Patience in a Day

Silence

Photo Credit: ialla (Creative Commons)

This post is a Tuesday Tip.

Related Post: Patience is Not a Virtue, It’s a By-Product

We think patience is about waiting like a good little boy or girl.

But it’s not.

Patience is the sense of peace that grows out of letting go of what we want, facing the pain in our hearts, letting the internal temper tantrum quiet down, and then listening to the redemptive whisper that is always murmuring just beneath the surface of our suffering. We know impatience does violence to our relationships, and we are desperate to find this still place of love in which we can meet the people we cherish.

Is there a roadmap for doing so? I don’t think so.

But I’m going to describe one path, and I’ll leave it up to you to tell me where it takes you…

  1. Schedule it. Set aside a day for patience-building. Sunrise to sunset. This is the most important step. Without a wide-open day gaping before you, the temper tantrum will not have time to go quiet. Make whatever sacrifice it requires. Get a sitter, cancel obligations, disappoint somebody.
  2. Get away. Choose a place that is secluded and quiet. Away from home where distractions will beckon. A place you will not run into anyone you know. Preferably, a place you won’t run into anyone at all: a bench in a forest preserve, a retreat center, a church sanctuary in mid-week.
  3. Disconnect. No phone. No books. No phone. No music. Did I say no phone? Just a pad of paper and a pen. None of your normal methods of distraction. I’m guessing you’re getting a little queasy at this point. That’s okay. It’s the heart stuff coming up; you’re already beginning.
  4. Pick on somebody. Choose one relationship to be the focus of your day. Choose someone you care about deeply but who has been testing your patience. You are going to write them a letter today.
  5. Listen to the temper tantrum. You will spend your morning embracing your frustration and impatience. Listening to the temper tantrum. Begin by identifying at least five negative thoughts and/or emotions that arise when you think about the person. Write each one at the top of a separate page. Spend 30 minutes on each page. Do not censor any thoughts, feelings, or sensations. Record whatever comes up in relation to that thought or emotion. Remember, it is your censoring and running from your internal temper tantrum that produces endless feelings. When you allow yourself the experience, you will discover it doesn’t last forever. You will begin to quiet down inside.
  6. Sit don’t flit. The key to listening is getting your mind to sit on an emotion, rather than flitting from thought to thought, as it will be inclined to do. Every time you notice your thoughts and attention have strayed from your focal point, take three deep breaths, and return your mind to the negative thought or emotion you are attending to. Do it over and over. And over and over.
  7. Listen for the whisper. Enjoy a quiet lunch. Then, in the afternoon, when your heart sounds silent—it will never be perfect, but you will no longer feel attached to those negative thoughts and feelings—begin to listen for another voice. It will be gentle and loving and graceful. It will be patient and peaceful and kind. Listen to what it says about the person you are attending to. It will see them as broken, human like you, fallible but valuable. It will not deny the frustrating parts of them, but it will encompass all of what they are. Your mind will flit again. This time, return it to the whisper.
  8. Write the letter. Enjoy a peaceful dinner. Then, in the evening, allow the whisper to write a letter for you. Literally write it down. Let the whisper-voice write for you. Make it your voice. There is no template for the letter. Simply refrain from censoring the thoughts and feelings you are having. And write.

This may seem like a strange path upon which you are embarking. It may be populated by all sorts of strange and scary things. But remember, they cannot withstand the light of your attention. And when the scary things have subsided, and you’ve discovered another voice, you will know a healing patience.

Comments? What would be most difficult about walking this path? What would be most healing? Please feel free to share in the comments.

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Tuesday Tip Disclaimer: The Tuesday Tip is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • WitheringTulip

    I really like this idea. Patience (especially with certain people) is something that I really need (and want) to keep practicing, but in the past I’ve usually tried to practice it in the company of the actual person with whom I need to be more patient with.. which doesn’t always end nicely. So I think this would be a nice in-between step for me to work on first. That way I won’t actually hurt anyone in the process.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      Your welcome! I do think so much of the work of relationship happens when we’re alone.

  • Carrie

    Beautiful!

  • Chris J

    I like it too, and it IS beautiful.

    I spent a day last year doing some of the things you suggest here, but I went specifically to listen to the still, small voice of the Spirit. And he showed me the things he wanted to show me.

    http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/2011/12/hearing-from-spirit-in-coventry.html

    It wasn’t specifically about patience, and it wasn’t focussed on the same purpose as your suggestion, Kelly. But I like your advice and I’d encourage anyone to try them. What I CAN say is that it’s all about listening and hearing and obeying on my part and all about grace and forgiveness and opportunity on Father’s part.

    He will speak clearly to anyone who is willing to wait and listen. HalleluYah!

    http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/2011/07/response-are-you-listening.html

    • Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      Chris, I read your article about your visit to Coventry. It, too, was beautiful. Thank you. Nouwen points out that the word “obey” has a Latin root meaning “to listen attentively.” I like the idea that listening closely and obedience intersect.

  • jlanewell

    I find myself rethinking this post. I guess when I look at this definition of patience, I would say it sounds more like contentment instead of patience. Or perhaps in some ways they are the same. I think there is a peace that you can reach as you accept your life and the circumstances you are in. I am thinking more along the lines of life stage and age. At each life stage we have different things that are concerning us and as we age we start to address those issues. I guess I see the temper tantrums as unmet expectations we have of ourselves or others in our lives. When these expectations are not being met we can become very critical and demanding of those around us and as a result make life pretty terrible for everyone. Although I am sure we would not see it that way at the time. As time passes, we can become more comfortable in our own skin or get to the point where we start to open up and address those expectations. It takes some soul searching to know which expectations are reasonable, unreasonable or are just not valid.

    As example, you might expect your parents to be “hands on” type of grandparent, seeing your children frequently, as well as coming to all their programs at school. However, if they are retired, traveling and not around as much as you would want, then you could see your parents as falling short of your expectations. You could be upset and impatient with them because you think they are missing out on spending time with you and your children. Impatience in that situation would find you very discontented with your relationship with your parents. Your feels could be hurt that they are traveling and not being with your kids. On the flip side, if you don’t have those expectations, you could be totally fine that your parents are traveling and be grateful they are healthy enough to do so. My point is our expectations can affect how we see things and how much patience we show in those relationships.

    My thought on the path described is, it is a scary but interesting proposition. I know firsthand that taking time for yourself, turning off the electronics, opening up your heart to really get in touch with your real feelings about a situation or your relationship with a particular person can be really hard. What I have also learned recently that it is in those quiet moments that we can forgive ourselves for not living up to our own expectations, forgive others for falling short of what we needed and we can be brave enough to love them anyway just the way they are. The exciting part is that you can decide embrace your life and to change it to be more fulfilling at any point along the way. The only way I have found is to challenge those expectations I have of my husband, children, friends, siblings, parents and my current life circumstances. You can start to live the life you want as well as have the relationships you need. So often we think we have are so far down a particular road that it can’t be anything different. But I think change is possible, it requires work, forgiveness, accountability and allowing yourself to opening up in order to see the joy in the little things or moments in your life.

    The most difficult part of a journey like this is that you might discover that you were the source of the discontentment or added way more than you thought by having unreasonable expectations. By taking this time you are facing yourself and opening your heart to listen to the good things inspite of your perceived critism. I guess for me the whisper is allowing yourself to see the other person as God see them. It is learning to love even when you might previously deemed them unlovable.

    Ironically, the most healing part of this is that once you take the time to invest in yourself you will be able to let go of invalid or unreasonable expectations. As a result you will find yourself less critical and more content with your life and circumstances. You will benefit most when you are able to forgive and let go of your anger and frustrations and unmet needs. Because the really healing begins we you are not consumed with anger and you have the patience to listen to someone else’s heart too.

    • Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      This was wonderful to read, Jennifer, thank you. I think you’re right on: we have to be careful with our expectations. We may look back and see things differently than when we are in the midst of them!

  • veronica

    Dr Flanagan, I have always followed your prescribed process when dealing with difficult emotions of any nature – one of the few things I have done well in life. I just didn’t label the whole process as well as you have done so thanks for that. When I was single, I often took time and went away for a day or two to “untangle” myself. With three little ones and not much help, it is not possible to do so often enough. However, after many years of this practice, I can actually go over the process mentally in my head and untangle myself in a couple of hours. Learning to do so has significantly reduced headaches and other stress related illnesses. It is incredible how much peace and healing a simple process produces. As for the phone, I don’t wait to go away. Over the weekend, as long as my family is with me, the mobile phone is off. I check it at the end of the day for any messages. Huge benefits as you can guess.

    • Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      These are great prescriptions for all of us, Veronica. And it is so true that, as the process becomes more familiar, the untangling begins to happen more quickly. Thank you!