If you could change one thing about this world what would it be?
Chances are you might want to end poverty, improve education, cure diseases, end racism, comfort the lonely, empower people around the world to live authentic lives. These may seem like the wishes of a beauty queen but they are the lofty ambitions that can take us beyond ourselves to acts of kindness, compassion, courage and altruism. So if you had that one wish, what would it be for?
I believe that mine would be for patience, for myself and for others.
I am not by nature or upbringing a patient person. I struggle to take action one step at a time. I delight in a full schedule and am nervous at the thought of nothing to do. I believe that if I just push hard enough I can solve whatever problem lies before me, even those problems that have resisted all previous efforts to shift. I am easily seduced into action, even when the time is not right or the path is not clear. I am the target market for quick fixes and easy solutions.
Yet I am inspired and moved by the stories of those who resist the urge for action and work patiently and authentically for the greater good of themselves and others.
In the great protest song of the 1990s, From Little Things Big Things Grow, song-writers Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody tell the story of Vincent Lingiari and The Gurindji Strike that sparked the Indigenous land rights movement in Australia and the Torres Strait Islands. The strike and the movement eventually (after eight long years) resulted in 1976 in legislation to give Indigenous people freehold title to traditional lands in Northern Territory.
One of the great lines from that song is when Lingari declines the “quick fixes” of the white people in the city, reminding himself and us that his people “know how to wait.” This is not to validate inaction in the face of injustice and suffering, but rather that for real, substantial change to occur we need to learn how to be patient.
Patience is one of those virtues that have gone out of fashion, particularly in the self-development world. We talk of laser coaching and instant meditation, where we can have all the benefits of years of practice and discipline in 10 minutes or less. We spruik the teleseminars and workshops that rolls all the knowledge of weeks or months into 30 minutes or one intense weekend. We want accelerated learning and instant results. We resist practice and discipline, and patience.
Yet patience is the key to long lasting creation and change. We may gain an insight in a moment but it takes kindness and self-compassion to re-train ourselves to integrate that insight into our lives. Often something comes to light in an intense experience (like a retreat or workshop) and then fades in the daylight. It needs to be held, gently, like our dreams.
As Stephanie Dowrick writes, we can support ourselves to be patient by doing the little things: observing, giving ourselves space and time, declining society’s offer to validate ourselves through imposed business and overlooking small set-backs and frustrations.
Having stopped and maybe even taken a step backwards, perhaps now it is time to slow down and attend to the little things around us. Gently, with patience, kindness and self- love.
Patient people are a delight to be around. They contribute to a kinder, calmer world. It’s that simple.