Whenever I hear these words, I am immediately annoyed. If someone is thanking me for my patience, I have probably been anything but. How dare “they” assume I have been patient, or anything but irritated at “them” for having made me wait. And besides, what choice did I have about being patient? I was probably waiting on the phone to talk to someone about a service or technical problem of some sort. The kind of thing that must get done, no matter how long you have to wait. Or I was at the airport waiting to board a flight that I had already paid for, going to places that I either need to go or want to go. How can I not be patient? I may have been at a doctor’s office waiting to be seen for a problem that is keeping me up at night or otherwise making me miserable. Should I just walk away with the thought that my eye that has been swollen shut for three days is not a real problem; that eventually it will just go away? Why should I be patient with companies that don’t employ enough personnel to handle calls, or airlines that overbook flights, or doctors that overschedule? I have no choice! Or do I?
In thinking about patience, I realize that when it comes to the bigger things in life, I am incredibly patient. I am patient with my family, who have loved me, disappointed me, cared for me, ignored me, celebrated me and criticized me all of my life. I have cultivated patience for them. I was patient with the long process of going to school for what seemed like 100 years, to get the degrees and credentials that would enable me to do what I wanted with my career. I have been patient with my decades-long meditation practice, battling my mind and ego so that I could have brief moments of stillness and peace both inside my meditation room and outside of it. I have been patient with my clients who sometimes really “show up” to sessions and do the work, and sometimes not; who can sometimes share the truth with me and with themselves, and sometimes not. I have been patient in my marriage and with my friends and in my creative processes. Yes, I am a patient person. So why do I want to strangle the voice on the other end of the customer service line, the airline gate attendant or the doctor’s receptionist?
There are no easy answers here. One thing that comes to mind is that the “personal Claudia”, the sister, wife, friend, aunt, therapist, student, devotee, is invested in being her highest self. She’s on a mission…to become self-realized, to be loved and admired, to be empathic, to be of service etc. While the “impersonal Claudia” really has no such agenda. I call her “Claudia the Narcissist”. She just wants things to happen in her way and in her time. She is the narcissist; entitled, self-involved and yes, impatient. She wants no feeble excuses, winded explanations or halfhearted apologies. She just wants what she wants, when she wants it. Whatever excuses are offered are bogus and whatever apologies put forth are not accepted. She is indignant at all this inconvenience. WHO IS THIS PERSON? Certainly not me! But yes, she IS me. She lives alongside of my highest self and whispers in her ear, just when the time is right, that she is entitled to be entitled, to be angry, to even be rude. As long as I see these two “selves” as separate, I don’t have a choice over how “Claudia the Narcissist” behaves or thinks. She comes on like an alien invasion and I have no control over her.
“Claudia the Narcissist” is part of my ego structure; that psychological part of me that often isn’t attractive, likeable or even functional, but that constantly battles for dominance over the real or higher self. As long as we are embodied in human form and partake of the human experience, we will have an ego and we will be called on to do battle with it. Ego is with us, but it is not us. We can neither ignore it nor embrace it. We must deal with it. For me to say that I have no choice over my feelings of impatience; that it is the disorganized, uncivil, disrespectful way of the world that causes these feelings in me, is to deny my authentic higher self and succumb to the ego.
While psycho/spiritual considerations are interesting and important, they aren’t the whole picture. Regardless of how the battle wages between Self and ego, there are feelings and mood states to be considered at the moment of ego’s intrusion. While ego is telling me that my impatience is justified, even righteous, my body is telling me that it is tense. My head pounds, cheeks get hot, breath gets short, heart beats faster. My mind, as well, is having its own melt down. Obsessive thoughts whir through the brain. Worry, anger and irritation cloud my mental space, all resulting in feelings of ANXIETY. Ah ha…the old nemesis! I devoted a good many years to healing myself of anxiety and have spent a career trying to help others overcome its power. But here it is again. This time wrapped in different paper, cloaked in indignation and self-righteousness instead of fear and feelings of doom, but anxiety nonetheless. I certainly want to become that highest self I spoke of earlier, or at least spend a lot more time with her, but even more immediately, I want to be free of anxiety.
So bring on the long waits at the airport, the traffic that moves too slow, the 20 minutes spent on hold waiting to talk to someone at the water department. I’m ready to resume the war and I hope to win the next battle.
For those of you who have made it through this entire piece…Thank you for your patience.