When I was a kid, the only time my mom would get mad at me was when I was “sassy.” I remember the word, but I don’t completely recall what I did to be called that. I think I talked back or argued or something equally bratty for an 7-year-old. If it happened when we were out somewhere, my mother would take me aside and quietly whisper, “We will talk about this when we get home.” Her saying this was a worse punishment than anything that might have followed back at our house. The torture was not what would happen when we got home—it was having to wait for it.
That was the first time I realized what impatience felt like. It’s that jittery sense that you can’t wait another second for whatever is going to happen. By the time I was a teenager, a lot of my life was spent in this state. No matter what was going to occur next, I felt that it couldn’t get here fast enough. Whether it was goals to achieve or an upcoming plan, everything in my being was focused on that—counting the minutes and days until the next thing. Even if it was something bad—like a talking-to from my mother—I just wanted it to happen, and I didn't want to wait.
My biggest job right now is to sit with my life as it is—to be on good, patient terms with myself as I am.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but all of the waiting for that next thing did nothing but keep my eye on some made up horizon. It trained me to believe that the good things are all out there, not right here. I learned to pride myself on the strength it took to wait for the good to come. In my mind, I was disciplining myself to endure the now in exchange for the future. It turns out that sounds a lot better than it really is—especially when I turned that same approach on myself. Instead of knowing or liking myself as I was all those years, I waited impatiently for the time I would be the person I always dreamed of being.
Now, at this end of my life, I no longer want to race through the hard parts or the boring parts to get to the fun, or good, or beautiful, or successful. More than anything, I want to slow it all down and appreciate who I am now and the turn of the light in every hour of the day. But even wanting it doesn’t mean I have the skills. After so many years of looking at my watch and wishing for time to fly by until we get to the good part, slowing down and waiting feels unfamiliar.
I’ve also spent many regrettable hours being impatient with other people—not wanting to slog through the doldrums of their lives anymore than I want to do it in mine. I’m realizing now that, in so many areas of my life, impatience has really been an unwillingness to sit in the unknown, the boring, the sad, the scary, the mediocre. But I’m also aware that this is most of life. So I’m practicing this presence for the first time ever. When my desk at work is covered with papers and I’m behind on a project, all I can think of is how much I want this moment to pass. But, I'm also discovering that if I just slow down, take a deep breath, and simply sort through one pile of papers, I’m back in the moment. The discomfort is not nearly as grim as I’d thought it would be.
My biggest job right now is to sit with my life as it is—to be on good, patient terms with myself as I am. As I practice, I realize that it can change the tone of a whole day. I slow down enough to hear someone laugh, to see the sun touch those trees on my road to work. I’m not thinking about what’s around the bend then, but I need a constant reminder to stay here, in this moment. Don’t spend it wondering when the next one will come, I think to myself. Just be in it. Watch the dog run across the yard, the squirrel on the fence. This is my life, right now. Cherish it. Just this moment.