March's Gift: Patience
I remember well an elementary school bulletin board in my Indiana classroom featuring the quote, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” I was in Mrs. Baker’s second grade class when this idea of a scary roaring lion transforming into a sweet little lamb bathed in sunshine and flowers gave me hope. On a gray winter day, it gave me hope that when things seem scary and difficult at the beginning, at some point they would always ultimately soften and feel easier. Having survived knee-freezing days in my little skirt and wool coat while waiting for the school bus, I witnessed gentle warming by the end of March and this waiting it out became a sort of metaphor for my little girl self. It added to my Sunday school upbringing ideas that if I would just be good enough and suffer through enough that things would all get better. These lessons focused on patient, quiet waiting and remembering that good ultimately would always triumph over bad. In the end it would all be certainly OK if I could just wait it out.
Lately, I find myself less charmed by this belief and struggling with whether patience is at all possible in this day where we desire quicker than instant rewards around every corner. Even in this impatient time, many of us do still seem to think some about the importance of patience relative to our children, to our peer relationships, to ourselves and to our world. We just seem to have a harder and harder time finding it.
“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.” —A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
Patience in our peer relationships: This quote from Winnie, one of my favorite mental health experts, is a sweet and gentle reminder to me. It calls up one of my basic beliefs about positive intentions. Regardless of how hard it is to remember sometimes, I believe that everyone is doing the best she can. We often speak of patience when we are talking about the people with whom we are in relationship. We want them to be patient with us and put up with our shortcomings even as we struggle to be just a little more patient with them. We forget sometimes that they may have a little piece of fluff in their ear. Or maybe it’s a big piece of fluff. Whatever it is, we need to take the time to let them hear and to remember they are likely doing the best they can with whatever it is they are dealing with. Most people don’t wake up in the morning thinking they will see whose life they can make difficult. We need to cut each other some slack and find some patience with other people in our lives.
Patience with our children: We speak of patience perhaps most often when we are dealing with our children. We ask them, beg them, to please be patient. Wait until we can take time to put down our work or our phone. Wait until it is their turn to play with the toy. Wait until after their vegetables to eat their ice cream. Interestingly, we often quite impatiently ask them to please be patient for just a little while longer. Sometimes it seems that we need them to be patient so that we can feel maybe just a little calmer and more in control inside, forgetting that they may be struggling with the same wish to have a little more control themselves. Maybe they are doing the best they can do in this moment.
Patience with ourselves: This month’s yoga pose, janu sirsasana provides an opportunity to practice patience with ourselves. In this forward bending pose, if you look around in yoga class, you will often see students leaning way forward over their extended leg with so much ease and grace. As a new yoga student, it is tempting to emulate what you see and really go for this stretch, maybe even grabbing a strap to get some extra leverage to pull yourself all the way to the floor. This wish to go as far as you can as fast as you can, may lead to back pain; so, it is important to encourage yourself to go slowly and only as far as you can in the present moment to get the stretch your body needs. As in life, this kind of patience with yourself on the mat can lead to a much happier result. With patience and practice you may find yourself eventually moving with more ease into a deeper stretch. Patience can be increased by gently saying to yourself, “the only perfect yoga pose is the pose that is perfect in my body in this very moment.”
“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.” Thich Nhat Hanh
In yoga we often talk about the importance of staying in the present moment. One of my favorite yoga quotes above stresses the value of realizing that the present moment is the only moment. I really believe in the value of this present moment practice both in yoga and in daily life. In situations off the mat, lately I have tried coming to the present moment while realizing in the way back of my mind that there will perhaps be other moments in which I will be able to be present. My interest in this idea was enhanced by an interaction with my daughter about her parenting experience. When dealing with her daughter’s potty training, I was struck by my daughter’s ability to be more patient by realizing that while this was being difficult, it would probably not always be this way. I clearly remember her saying, “She’s probably not going to go to college in diapers, right?” And she was right, potty training is over and both mom and daughter have moved on to other moments. While only the present moment is guaranteed, my inner second grader still believes that this balance of being patient through difficult times, while still holding on to the hope that times may get easier, is an important idea to consider.
“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Mitch McConnell, 2017
When Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced on the senate floor in 2017, Mitch McConnell famously made the statement above to explain the silencing. Instead of squelching Warren, happily for feminists, this became a rallying cry for women all over the country. I found it interesting that a couple of years later when a college-aged woman I know wanted to use this phrase as a tattoo, she wasn’t aware of the source of the quote. Not knowing the Senator Warren reference, this idea of persistent women being silenced was such a pervasive one that it resonated deeply with her, just as it did with so many of us as women. Patience alone can seem like a passive activity. Persistence is about not just waiting but also about putting in some effort in the process.
“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall. It will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.” Margaret Atwood
As I pass through my 70th year, trying to remain present in some moments of real peace and some moments of what feels like sheer terror, I’ve been giving much thought to the need for patience and persistence. I’ve been realizing that sometimes things that seem difficult don’t just require waiting it out and hoping for things to get better. Instead, difficult moments may actually require our active engagement. They require really focusing on what our own values are and finding a way to live in those values as we wait. March may have come in like a lion but we need to be present with her and find our own way to do what we can do to be in the present moment if we are going to make it to a more peaceful spring and summer to follow. Sometimes the moment we are in must simply be patiently endured. Other moments call us to find our own deepest beliefs and resiliency, to wait it out, to do what we can while we wait, and maybe even to find a way around if there is no way through.