“Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active; it is concentrated strength.” ~Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton
Well that is what I used to think.
I was taught growing up that it was a virtue, but I was never taught why.
In my experience, patience had meant I would miss out on something I desired. So I became the hare in the race and would fast track myself through career choices and opportunities and even relationships for fear that I would be forgotten and miss out again.
But in the story, it is tortoise that wins the race, because he is constant and sure-footed.
With all my “hurry up” and haring around I may have seemed to the outside world to be go-getting and achieving great things that seem so valuable in our materialistic world, but because I was so busy rushing to the next big thing, I was actually missing out on my life.
I’m 36, and I was brought up in an era that has been all about get it, have it, and then throw it away. For a long time, this left me feeling empty.
What I hadn’t learned was the true meaning and purpose of patience.
So I took up the piano.
After many years of wanting to play, and making endless excuses because I was scared of the hard work and the commitment it would involve, a time came when I was ready to face up to my fears.
I told my piano teacher that if it took me until I was 70, that would be fine, as I believed it was a skill I would like later in life.
All good words, however not how I behaved…
As soon as I sat down on the stool and started to learn my first notes, I felt a building impatience.
I would get so frustrated with my fingers and hands for not working independently. Every time I took a small step forward and improved, I would barely savor the achievement and would once again get upset at anything I saw as failure.
My brain and body worked independently. For the first time I came face to face with the realization that I don’t have full control over my body, and that it will only move at the pace it needs to go at.
I was surprised by the dark feelings of self-punishment, criticism, fear, and anger.
Through all this my piano teacher demonstrated true patience to me, even if I had not gotten to grips with it yet.
For a year I went either weekly or fortnightly for this torture.
When I felt enthusiastic I would practice between lessons, and if I didn’t, well I would avoid it until just before the lesson or not do it at all. Of course I would then be even more cross with myself that I couldn’t do it.
As a former professional sportswoman, I knew that it took repetitive practice to get better at a skill. At that time, I thought I was good with patience.
The truth, though, was I was a natural rider with an affinity for horses and I had been riding since I was four years old, so I found it a pleasure to practice and, therefore, easy.
But this was difficult, a new skill, and over and over again I wanted to quit!
Still I wouldn’t let myself. Even if I avoided practicing, I still kept turning up and paying the money. I had made a commitment to myself and I was determined to stick it out and see what would happen.
Through all this fight with myself I came to discover patience.
Patience is not a virtue; that makes it sound easy and light.
No, patience is hard and it takes practice. Patience is really about having the inner strength to stick to your guns, face your fears, repeatedly let go of internal expectations, and have trust that it will all work out in the end.
Slowly my hands and brain learned to adjust and they began to work in harmony—well, almost!
I began to be able to read the music without looking at my hands, and use both of them at the same time independently. Even as I write this, I realize that I haven’t truly acknowledged what a hard feat that actually is.
It was like learning to walk again, but with my hands.
Gradually, as everything started to come together just a little easier through patience and practice, I began to hear the music I was creating. For perfects moments I would feel pure joy and pride; notes on a page, which could only become music, because I learned to add space and timing.
And like that, a door opened to a new understanding of life.
The music that is our lives can only be fully recognized, experienced, and played out when we allow space to move, breathe, and enjoy. We need to let go and let time play out at its own rhythm.
When we rush around, we lose patience and enjoyment of the moment, as I had. We also miss our own individual melody and all the experiences, feelings, and people which help to create it.
So I am now practicing to be a tortoise, constantly moving, sure-footed and enjoying a more natural pace—which allows me to look around and smell the roses, if you don’t mind me mixing metaphors!
After a year I could play Beethoven’s Fleur de lis, not perfectly, but well enough so that I enjoyed playing it and could hear in my soul what Beethoven was expressing when he wrote it.
I still have my goal that I will be able to play well by the time I’m 70, but I am taking the time to make small steps in mastering the skill and enjoying the journey.
The practice of patience has dispelled my fears of inadequacy and by learning to harness and contain the energy of both fear and enthusiasm; not run or hide from it, but to own it and concentrate it into a powerful force, which consistently and steadily drives me forward in my life, towards my goals now measured at a pace which makes me feel both confident and appreciative of the journey.
So perhaps patience is a virtue after all, when we find our own route to truly understand it.
Photo by Aunt Owwee