Lately I feel I’ve been tested by the ever-so-elusive quality of patience. Over the last year I have felt this desire and readiness for some personal and professional moves to occur – I’ve even vied for opportunities to take me in the direction of those goals and aspirations with certainty they were going to happen, and then suffered the emotional blow when they didn’t. The reason: it wasn’t the right “timing.” In the moment of course I felt the sting of disappointment and “woe is me.” My self-centered, ego-driven thought was that if it didn’t happen in that moment, there would never be another chance.
I’m starting to learn that patience truly is a virtue, however. Last weekend I marveled as I watched an equestrian friend of mine prepare for a horseback ride. We were in the North Georgia Mountains and she invited me to accompany her and another friend. So I happily followed them to the barn where they had their horses boarded, expecting to hop on the horse and go. Little did I know the elaborate and time-consuming process that would follow. From preparing the trailers (we were not in fact “hopping on”, but rather driving the horses in trailers to the trail where we would later ride), to wrangling the horses from the pasture, to brushing them, cleaning out their hooves, then wrangling them again into the trailers…and all this before even saddling them up. The whole preparation process took about 2 hours – which was longer than our ride itself. I admired the patience this must require on my friends’ part. When I mentioned it, she just said how much she enjoyed being with the horses; that the preparation and “clean up,” so to speak, was as much a joy as the ride itself.
For me, this revelation was stunning, yet inspiring. I am someone who admittedly hurries through life, always thinking about the next task or the end result of what I’m presently doing. Admittedly, that’s a sad way to exist. Perhaps that’s what both attracts me and simultaneously drives me crazy about travelling to two of my favorite countries – Spain and Argentina. It’s worth mentioning that I’ve spent quite a bit of time in both places studying, working, and travelling so I’ve had the opportunity to observe and live the cultural differences with respect to time and patience. It wasn’t until I was reading about culture the other day that I saw these differences defined in black and white. Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner present “dilemmas” or alternatives that illustrate the essential tensions between cultures in their work, Riding the Waves of Culture. “Sequential cultures” like the U.S. and Japan see time as a linear progress and an important part of life. Planning, keeping appointments, and making productive use of time are valued. The future is more important than the past. “Synchronic cultures”, on the other hand, see time as large enough to accommodate multiple activities simultaneously. They can also accommodate delays if a change in schedule is necessary to support a relationship. The past and present are equally if not more important than the future. Spain and Argentina are definitely the latter, which is evidenced by a mere stop at almost any restaurant in either country. You have to practically (or literally) stand up and chase the waiter down to bring you more bread, wine, or the check at the end of the meal.
As much as this irritates me, I am starting to see the beauty of how these cultures truly live in the present moment. They aren’t thinking about getting the check because they are so immersed in the food, company and conversation. This innate patience is a quality I myself have been trying to cultivate over the last year through a yoga and meditation practice. In meditation I often catch my mind wandering to the clock or the items on my to-do list (or the content of my next blog post!) and have to remind myself to just breathe into the present moment. Just last week, in fact, my yoga teacher was reinforcing the importance of consciously moving through the poses: how yoga is not about the end result (the pose), but it’s about how we get there. The practice has made me focus more on the present and also be more patient with myself as I am humbled by just how much I cannot yet do physically. Yet, the joy I have experienced when I do finally accomplish a certain “milestone” pose like crow or an unassisted headstand is profoundly rewarding.
Paulo Coelho, the famous Brazilian author, said that patience is so important because it makes us pay attention. And pay attention I did last weekend as I was observing my friend preparing the horses for our ride. As I was leaning against a fence near the barn, I noticed a large and intricately woven spider web. The spider itself was tucked up in the corner under the lip of the barn roof, patiently waiting for its prey. The image of the spider and the web stuck with me. As I personally struggle with the line between patience and complacency, when to take action and when to wait, I was struck by the lesson of the spider. You have to put in the work – to weave the web of your dreams and aspirations – but then have the patience to wait for the ultimate prize to come. And when it does, rest assured that you are truly ready to feed on the sustenance of your soul.