Cultivating Patience

Tomaž Golub (photo: Darja Štravs Tisu)


Time moves for us all, no matter who we are or what we do; it passes us by like a speeding car. It cannot be controlled, so it’s on us, how we will react to its perpetual motion. On one side, there are people who never do anything, thinking that there is always tomorrow, while others plan their life down to the last point, thinking there will never be enough. While the first don’t realize their mistake until far too late, the latter spend their days in torment, because, at the end of the day, life is unpredictable. One moment you are sailing smoothly, and the next you are stuck in a bed, with life seemingly passing you by outside. The only control that is in our hands is how we respond to the events that are unfolding. Whether we will succumb to the pressure and the anger, or face and process our emotions, and come out of the situation even stronger. In essence, you can give yourself hope and in effect cultivate patience, which I plan to discuss in this article, or you can cultivate its opposite twin, impatience. I will mention how to process emotions in a healthy way, as well as provide some tips that have helped me in the past and are still helping me nowadays. However, I would like to point out, that what worked for me and my own journey won’t necessarily work for you. The choice is yours, to take a chance and try.

SNG Maribor (photo: Tiberiu Marta)

Pay attention to your emotional response
“To every reaction there is an equal opposite reaction.” (Newton’s third law of motion) When a ballet dancer jumps, the legs exert a downward force against the ground, which is countered by the force exerted by the ground against his legs and the dancer rises of the foor. In physics, this is known as Newton’s third law of motion, but it extends far beyond this subject, and can also be applied to everyday situations. Every time we encounter a new situation, particularly when it could be damaging for us, our body will trigger an emotional response, in its effort to protect us from the outside stimuli, the severity of which will depend greatly not only on the event itself, but also what is going in us. That is why the personality trait (or rather the response), which we call impatience is so interesting to analyse. It manifests, when our own plans and dreams collide with reality. It’s essentially a type of emotional trauma and in order to process it, we need to go through the process of grief (Bucay, 2001). Many think that the term trauma is reserved only for huge events, such as systemic injustice, injury or death, which is simply not true. It happens every single time when we get hurt, our emotional boundaries are crossed or when we encounter a situation that is out of our control, which leaves us feeling exposed and wounded (similar to how our body feels when we wound ourselves). Both our minds and bodies have developed their own responses of healing those wounds.

SNG Ljubljana (photo: Darja Štravs Tisu)

When we fall into a situation that is out of our control, our brains will immediately react in order to protect our sense of self. After the initial shock, our first response (most often) is anger, which protects us from feeling of helplessness, which is similar to the haemostatic and the inflammatory phase of wound healing. In those two phases, our body triggers inflammation in the affected area in order to rush a lot of blood to the area, so it can clot the wound and provide beneficial substances. The emotion, which eventually puts out the aggressive energy of anger and helps us heal, is sadness, (which in the wound healing process corresponds to the proliferation stage, where our body heals and closes the wound). Once we fully work through all the emotions, we arrive to the last stage, which is known as acceptance, where we accept what had happened to us and let go of all the emotions hiding underneath. This phase parallels the maturation stage of physical wounde healing, where the body fully heals the wound and discards the cells, which helped to heal the affected area. This, can however happen only, if we actually acknowledge that the wound is actually there and take the proper steps, to take care of it properly (or seek professional assistance). Should we chose to ignore, it can lead to the wound potentially getting infected, which can in turn cause many other problems. It is the same with psychological trauma. Deliberate suppression of emotions of grief can lead to episodes of uncontrolled outbursts and even worse, burnout and the feeling of emotional numbness.So in order to truly cultivate patience, me must first acknowledge our own emotions and examine them. By choosing how we will react to these feelings, we regain some of the control that was taken from u.When I was recovering from my first big injury, which took about six months, I constantly experienced those feelings of impatience. Especially in the period of the first six weeks. I took quite a bit of time, before I realized that I had to let my body heal in its own time and on its own terms. I would have never been able to do that, had I not acknowledged and faced the things that were going on underneath the surface.

SNG Maribor (photo: Tiberiu Marta)

Express your emotions
In the previous chapter, we discussed how important it is to timely acknowledge and take care of our emotional wounds, in order to prevent further damage. Once we established the cause of the emotions, we need to properly process and express them. In a society obsessed with pleasure, we pushed aside all other feelings and gave them a negative connotation. By doing this, we have only suppressed our shameful emotions, that in and of themselves are not actually bad. They are merely messengers about the impact of the environment on our sense of self, that will only get louder and louder, until we release them to the surface, feel them in their entirety and let them go. One of the best methods of expressing one’s emotions is through conversation, with someone that we trust, be it a family member, a friend, a loved one, or a trained professional. Even though we might not want to burden other people with our issues, there is no shame in asking for help, if we need it. Talking to someone about our problems, has many different benefits. It can relieve our feeling of the emotional weight that we feel and establish a level of connection and trust between the parties, which is necessary for human beings. It also gives us a chance to receive some words of encouragement or even a different take on the subject, which can shift our perspective. However, if you feel that you are not yet ready for that, or there is simply no one who is available in the moment, a form of expression, which I enjoy immensely, is writing, because it gives me a chance to freely pour all my emotions on the page. It also gives me a chance to view my written thoughts and emotions as an outside observer, thus giving me a chance of greater introspection. It’s also worth noting that other great forms of self-expression include all kinds of creative endeavours, such as singing, painting, drawing, dancing, etc. The last two methods I would like to mention, which are especially good for dealing with emotions of anger, sadness and numbness are exercise and weightlifting. Cardio exercise (like running, power walking, cycling etc.) raises the energy levels in our bodies, which improves our mood, as well as shifts our focus away from our current predicament, while the immense amount of focus and physical force needed for weightlifting helps to also burn off some of that aggressive energy that our bodies interpret as anger. Expressing emotions may seem like a scary step to take. Nevertheless, it is a necessary one, if we want to prevent our past emotional baggage from weighing us down in the future endeavours.

HNK Zagreb (photo: Novkovič)

This too shall pass
Through the process of evolution, human beings have developed an impressive capability of being able to concentrate on day-to-day issues. This in turn helped us to overcome many hurdles and survive. However, this can quickly turn into a hindrance, rather than a helpful tool, especially when we encounter a situation that we cannot influence. We thus fall into a perpetual loop, where we resist our current problem and at the same time, obsess over it. Here is where the concept of radical acceptance comes in. The practice requires us to accept the situation, and the accompanying emotions, in its entirety, as a part of our reality, but that it will eventually pass. This does not mean, however, that we approve of it. But why should we even bother? Well, when we feel like the event in question will last forever, it is ten times harder to bear. It feels like an immortal monster, which we cannot get rid of. Once we assign it an ‘expiration date’, it loses that power and influence over us … By doing this, we get rid of our obsessive need for control and move from the ‘negative’ mental space, into a more “neutral” one. In that space, is where the power to change our mood, is hiding. A method worthy of note here is meditation. Due to the broadness of the subject, I am only going to say a few words about, because it truly deserves its own article. Meditation (specifically mindfulness meditation or ‘Vipassana’) is a process, where we, through breathing exercise and a non-judgemental observation of our mind, slow down the constant flow of thoughts and thus achieve a complete awareness of the present moment. I have a serious tendency to over think in moments of crisis. Meditation helps pull me out of my own thoughts, allowing them to settle down, which allows me a clearer perspective on the current problem, similar to how we can see much more clearly into a lake, once the water settles allows the mud to sink to the bottom. I would like to end this chapter of the article with a story from a book, written by an Argentinian psychologist, Jorge Bucay: “A long time ago, there lived a king, who suffered from terrible mood swings. He was trying to find something that would ground him, when he was euphoric and lift him up, when he was going through one of his episodes of depression. He searched all throughout the land, but found nothing. He almost gave up, when suddenly one day a stranger appeared at the castle, claiming to have the solution. Inside a wooden box, he carried a simple golden ring, which would solve the King’s problem, but would only work if the King, every morning and evening, read what was on it. King took it, brought it closer to his eyes and read aloud the four words that would change his life forever: ‘this too shall pass’.

SNG Ljubljana (photo: Darja Štravs Tisu)

Active optimism
The last step, which I wish to discuss in this article, is the concept of “Active optimism”. The practice describes a deliberate attempt of trying to find the silver lining in a difficult situation. It works both in short (improves our mood), as well as in the long term (teaches our brain, to find joy, instead of focusing on negative thinking). (Weekly, 2011) It’s very important to mention, that in order to reap the benefits of this step, we must first do the steps previously mentioned in the article. Using the step too quickly or as a way of emotional suppression, can exacerbate our current condition and make us feel even worse. Imagine getting sick with a common cold and losing the stamina, that we worked so hard for. If we want to gain our strength and stamina back, we must first heal fully, before recommencing our training. Doing otherwise, could potentially exhaust our levels of energy and worsen the disease even more.
There are many different methods of practicing active optimism, but I will mention only two, that I have personally tried and tested.
The first method is at a first glance quite simple, but it requires a little bit of practice. Dig deep and on a piece of paper write all the things, in which this new situation benefits you, in one way or another. For example: having less pressure from people at work, having more time to rest, or simply having enough time to explore hobbies, that you might not have had the time to do before. In addition, although it might sound appealing to spend the day on the couch, our minds and bodies need a certain level of stimulation, to work at their best. Therefore, it’s also good to think of all the things that you might be lacking in and that would need improving. I remember an event, where early on in my career, I was cast as an understudy, for a certain modern dance project. And although being disappointed at first, I realized that it gave me a unique opportunity to improve some things in my technique, such as groundedness and the connection with the floor (which are very important in modern dance), which the dancer, who was dancing in the first cast, was very good in. So I spent the next two months (the duration of the creation of the ballet) observing the dancer and working on those things, and when I had to jump into the role, I was ready.
The other method, with which we can practice active optimism and therefore cultivate our own ability of being patient, is through daily gratitude exercises. On a piece of paper (or simply in your head), write at least three things that you are grateful for in that moment. It works twofold: it puts us into a better mood and lessens the anxiety, which can occur as a response to external (or internal) pressure, by telling our brain that in life, we are exactly where we need to be. I try to integrate this exercise into my daily routine, especially in times, when I encounter a situation, where I have no influence over the outcome. For example: “Many times I commute to my theatre, by bus and should it fall into a traffic jam, it could have quite serious impacts on my morning pre-training preparations. However, I am also aware that no matter how anxious or nervous I become, my mood will not have any influence, over the speed of the morning traffic. So, the only other rational thing that remains for me, is to take a couple of deep breaths, accept the situation as a normal part of life. In my head, I then try to think of three things that I am grateful for, like my extremely supportive family, my apartment that provides me with a roof over my head and that I found someone that loves me unconditionally. And I, almost immediately, feel better.” This is of course an idealised example and it sometimes requires a lot more effort on my part, but ever since I started implementing it into my daily schedule I have noticed that I have become more resilient to tough situations and that it has become much easier for me to remain optimistic in hard times.

Patience is not just an attribute that we are born with, as many may think. Like happiness, it is a skill, which we need to cultivate, with each new decision. Like the great character of Iroh, from the animated series of Avatar, once said: The Last Airbender once said: “In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength-”