Docsplainin' -- it's what I do

Docsplainin'--it's what I do.
After all, I'm a doc, aren't I?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

#7: Patience is a virtue

Patient ContemplationImage by 1Sock via Flickr
Patients occasionally (okay, frequently) express impatience with their progress in therapy. Impatient with themselves, they become impatient with me for not fixing them faster. And they worry that perhaps I am impatient with them for not doing more, better, faster than they actually are. 

Wood's Rule #7: Patience is a virtue

Because cultivating this virtue helps you "cease contributing to your own suffering and confusion and perhaps to that of others", Jon Kabat-Zinn1 describes patience as a "fundamental ethical attitude" (1994, p. 48).

"From the perspective of patience," Kabat-Zinn writes, "things happen because[emphasis added] other things happen" (p. 48). You get sober, whether sooner or later, because you got drunk. The teenager you've brought to me for therapy will develop maturity and judgment (eventually) precisely because he has been immature and impetuous. For that matter, we can only learn patience who began our journey with impatience.

And if that is true, then it is also true that
what will come next will be determined in large measure by how we are now. This is helpful to keep in mind when we get. . . frustrated, impatient, and angry in our lives (p. 50). 
What will being impatient and irritable right now this two seconds create in our next few minutes, days, weeks, or months? Years down the road, what quality of life will all this rushing around and crankiness have produced for us?

So I would remind my patients to, in Kabat-Zinn's words,
. . . [remember] that things unfold in their own time. The seasons cannot be hurried. Spring comes, the grass grows by itself. Being in a hurry usually doesn't help, and it can create a great deal of suffering--sometimes in us, sometimes in those who have to be around us (p. 48).
It's how I think of you when you are struggling, when you have hit a wall. I know that I cannot make a flower bloom, or control its form and color when it does. All I can do is make sure to plant it where it receives enough sunshine (but not too much); then I must water and fertilize it (but not too much). It grows on its own, in its own time and in its own way. And so will you, dear, so will you.

Kabat-Zinn closes this chapter, poetically titled "The Bloom of the Present Moment", with a quote from Lao-Tzu:
Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself
                            -from the Tao-te-Ching 
If I allow myself to become impatient in session, then I act before my mud has settled. It is not likely that anything that I do will come out of right mindfulness or right understanding. To the contrary, it is highly likely that I will do something to make your journey harder, or longer. And that would be unethical.

1. Kabat-Zinn, Jon (1994). Wherever you go there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life, pp. 47-51. Hyperion: New York.
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mamie said...

Oh gosh - I know this "patience is a virtue" quote like my face in the mirror. Familiar, but slightly challenging too.

I have learned one tool that helps me be patient when I otherwise want to hurry through something. I think, "Someday you'll be looking back on this day. It'll be over and done with long ago, and you'll be thankful for the progress you've made."

The day I quit drinking (and also the day I quit smoking) I felt that if I just had a little time under my belt I would feel happier and safer and a bigger sense of acomplishment. I used that "one day you'll be looking back" thought and sure enough, here I am, four years sober and three years without smoking. It certainly helps that I've been able to look back from a position of success.

Thoughtful post. Thank you.

Wendy Burnett said...

Perfect timing . . . I desperately needed the reminder that you can't rush things, and that if you just keep plodding along on the path you've started, eventually you'll get to your destination. Maybe not as quickly as you want, and maybe not without (sometimes productive) detours, but eventually.

(I'm suddenly hearing your voice saying, "you have to go THROUGH to get out," and remembering all the times I called the voicemail just for the comfort of hearing the voice of someone who understood.)