the patient spider catches its prey

Lately I feel I’ve been tested by the ever-so-elusive quality of patience. Over the last year I have felt this yearning desire and readiness for some personal and professional moves to occur. More concretely, I have a dream to live and work in Latin America, and I have felt the pull for a few years. I’ve even identified a specific opportunity and thoughtfully presented a proposal to realize my aspirations with absolute certainty it would transpire, and then I suffered the emotional blow when it did not. The reason: the timing was not quite right. In the moment, of course I felt the sting of disappointment and “woe is me.” My dramatic, ego-driven thought was that if it didn’t happen on my timeline, 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; as I followed her to the barn where she had her horses boarded, I expected that we would simply hop on the horses 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 responded just how much she enjoyed being with the horses. 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. As long as I can remember, I have been someone who hurries through life, always thinking about the end result of what I’m doing and the next task to complete. Admittedly, I am missing out on so much beauty in the now. Perhaps that’s what both attracts me and simultaneously drives me crazy about traveling to two of my favorite countries – Spain and Argentina. I’ve spent an extensive amount of time as a student and professional in both places, so I’ve had the opportunity to observe and live the cultural differences with respect to time and patience. But it wasn’t until I was reading about culture the other day that I saw these differences defined in black and white. In their work entitled Riding the Waves of Culture, social scientists and authors Dr. Fons Trompenaars and Dr. Charles Hampden-Turner present “dilemmas” or alternatives that illustrate the essential tensions between cultures.  “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 highly 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. Often you have to 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, maybe that is what subconsciously attracts me to the Latin culture. I admire the beauty of how they 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 the physical and mental challenge. 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, which became profoundly evident 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 struck me. As I personally struggle with the line between patience and complacency, when to take action and when to wait, I was moved 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 and trust to wait for the outcome to manifest. And when it does, rest assured that it is in the perfect time with adequate preparation to feed on the sustenance of your soul.