Time, Patience, and Process: A Musical Thing

“Patience is not simply the ability to wait–it is how we behave while waiting.”
– Joyce Meyer


Time. It’s something I think about time a lot these days. Over a year into the pandemic, time has warped and twisted our former lives. Days have blurred into months, and now years. 

As humans, we track our minutes, hours, days, and years to keep us moving. 

Our clock counts the hours we slept… or didn’t.
We count minutes until dinner arrives or the workday ends. 
We note the length of our jobs and relationships in years. 
Sometimes we race against time. Sometimes we will time to pass faster.  

You might have three more hours left during your weekend. 
You might have two years until you finish school.
You might have five weeks until your next day off. 

Often we don’t know what time will bring. 

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For better or worse, time follows our days, organizes our appointments, and chains us to our routines. We become impatient for time to pass when we’re uncomfortable. It’s human to want to rush past the annoyances and get back to feeling good. 

When surrounded by so much loss, uncertainty and grief, time can start to feel even more precious. Our anxieties tell us that we don’t want to waste our time. 

How long will this take? 

Many clients begin therapy by asking how long it will take to feel better. Like much of society, they want relief, results, and outcomes. Sometimes we need quick results and short-term relief, like when we take an aspirin to help us get through the pounding headache before an important meeting. But if we lean on short-term relief and fixes for the bulk of our lives, we miss out on deeper understandings. Very often, the place in between here (the pain) and there (the healing) is where we foster resilience, hope, and vital learning. We often miss it because we’re so focused on the result. 

Where are you impatient? 

Maybe it’s the frustrating moments like when you’re stuck in traffic or waiting in line. Perhaps it manifests towards your partner, or kids, or parents. Sometimes, we lack patience with ourselves, wishing we were somehow better. 

Google tells us that patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.  Maybe you noticed a lack of patience after month four of quarantine. Perhaps you lose your mind after two hours on hold with customer service. On the spectrum of our patience, and we all have our limits. 

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The pandemic taught us about our need for patience. Our old ways of life drastically changed without promises of a return. We learned to manage our frustration and tolerance of the unknowns. 

Patience and its inverse are sometimes simple, yet often profoundly complex. It’s not only our ability to wait alone that makes us have patience but how we wait: the tone, the quality of our waiting. 

When we’re unhappy, we can get overly focused on relief so often that we forget to find meaning on our way there. 

How we do anything affects the quality of our experience of it—waiting included. Can we find the meaning and the value in the process of waiting?  

Sometimes we’re awaiting the end of something frustrating, painful, or annoying. Many clients want so badly to get out of treatment that they aren’t yet curious about their inner struggles. So focused on getting out of it, we never learn from it. 

Our fast past culture creates little room for understanding our impulses and reactions. It isn’t comforting to slow down and ask more profound questions about ourselves. There’s so much else we could be doing

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We don’t always have the power to make life happen faster or according to our timeline. When we future-focused, we can forget to consider the quality of our waiting. What do we do, and how do we feel and behave while we’re on our way?    

Recently a client was musing on his dissatisfaction with his efforts. He was meditating, exercising, and reflecting but still struggling with sleep, anxiety, and low self-esteem. He wanted the pressure in his chest to go away; it made him feel insecure.  He had little curiosity about his experiences or feelings- he just wanted to feel better. Naturally, we all want to feel better when we’re hurting. Yet, our preoccupation with relief often indicates a sense of shame about our feelings or our capacity to tolerate them.  

We need to feel a sense of safety in those spaces to become curious. 

A Shift Towards Process – Curiosity of the Now

Much of my work with clients is rooted in fostering a curiosity towards themselves. To better understanding what’s going on inside, we often have to slow down. Vital interest in self-understanding, these places usually get buried underneath the stigma, fear, and shame of looking inward. 

Whether in something concrete like the bus’s arrival or the love of our lives, I’m convinced there is an essential component to notice along the way. We miss so much it if always narrowed in out the outcomes. In our results-driven culture, we can forget the unfolding of the journey before us. There is something in the process, in the way we behave along the way.  

You don’t need to love the experience of waiting, but you could find something to appreciate about it.  What would it be like if you looked up, felt your breath, or engaged with the strangers around you the next time you were waiting in line? How might you appreciate the process of building your muscles and not just the eventual shape you hope to achieve? What might you enjoy about your last days of supposed quarantine before it ends? Not always future-focused, what’s good and worth appreciating here and now? Might we be missing out on something vital if primarily focused on the future and hopeful outcome? 

Alan Watts, a British philosopher, spoke to life being like music: the song as a journey. If life is like a song, you don’t dance to a song or listen to music, waiting for the end. When we listen to music, we enjoy it as it goes. Life is while we’re living, now. That includes the waiting to get wherever it is that we’re going.   

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Choosing to focus on the process with curiosity and patience might make the waiting more exciting. It may also provide some relief. 

“and the thing was to get to that end, success or whatever it is, maybe heaven after you’re dead. But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.” – Alan Watts.

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