“He that can have patience can have what he will.”–Ben Franklin
Some say that life is a developmental journey of the soul. This description of one’s life purpose resounds with me. In fact, I believe we’re all placed on this earth with specific character development assignments. For some it might be learning to brake before acting out in anger, for others mastery of their life curriculum may entail becoming more self-controlled, while still others are here to learn empathy or compassion.
I used to think that some people in life just get off easy, but whenever I’m tempted to compare, I remind myself just how individualized our life assignments really are. The truth is that no matter what outward circumstances may look like to others, every single one of us feels stretched and challenged to respond to life’s upsets with good character.
For a long time I thought that finding my soul purpose would happen in an instant, as if a light bulb suddenly had been switched on. But lately I’ve been wondering if my soul purpose is less glamorous than I used to think it was….and maybe it’s not some hidden mystery that is waiting to be found. Maybe it’s a purpose that doesn’t require my enlightenment so much as my cooperation. And maybe the character quirks I’m here to work out have been blatant since the morning I was born.
I was often praised as a child for my intelligence, discipline, creativity, and ability to look nice in clothes. But just the mention of the word patient along with my name in the same sentence and you were bound to see eyes bulge and roll. Because truthfully, my lack of that virtuous P truly exasperated some people in my life. I’ll spare you (and my not sufficiently disengaged ego) a detailed account of my severe limitations concerning it. There is a far greater purpose to this post. See, I’ve always known that Patience and I have had a contentious relationship, but I had given up trying to fix this ongoing struggle. I decided it was a quirk about myself I’d much rather laugh about than fight against. But here’s the thing. Today I had a light bulb moment. As I reflected on my current circumstances I realized I seem to be experiencing strange feelings of patience. Or at least a noticeable lack of impatience. How did this happen, I wondered? Or the better question is when did this happen? That’s when it occurred to me that maybe I never really understood what it meant to be patient until now.
1.) Practice mindfulness. I always thought patience was a time-based virtue. I believed that people who were patient had simply learned the art of distracting themselves from their desires while simultaneously waiting for a point in the future when those desires would be fulfilled. It seemed like a meaningless waste of time that we people are forced to participate in at one time or another. I perceived the experience of waiting as either a void at best or an interruption in my forward movement at worst. Maybe we’re moving towards the end of a check-out line, or desiring to move towards wedded bliss. Whatever it is, waiting is a place of disconnect between where we are and where we want to be.
A couple years ago I began practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is a form of meditative awareness. Simply put, it’s about making a conscious decision to notice and appreciate something in the present moment. It’s being open to that zinging sensation of energy that animates our bodies with each and every breath we take. It’s being thankful for the miracles we take for granted every day. Patience is cultivated through the art of mindfulness because the only reality that exists is the exact moment we are living in. Patience isn’t about waiting for life to happen, but an awareness that life is happening–now. Which leads to the next point.
2.) Learn to accept everything that IS. Patience is born of the acceptance that everything in our lives is exactly as it should be. We might not always like exactly what IS. Sure life gets messy and it’s tempting to impatiently pine for brighter days, but the truth is that every single circumstance is an opportunity to achieve complete an assignment in our own personalized character development course called “my life.” Accepting what IS may require surrendering to the possibility that we are not the teachers, but simply the students of life. The present moment always asks this question, “What do these circumstances reveal about who I am becoming?” How can we possibly even begin to answer this most important question if we’re busy trying to skip out of class altogether?
3.) Participate in the creation of your future. This may seem like a bit of a paradox at first, but hang with me. Metaphysics teaches that the thoughts we think and the words we speak are constantly creating our future. What we are literally thinking and believing in the present moment creates the next moment. Some call it the “Divine Matrix” or simply the law of attraction. Our internal world is responsible for the creation of our outward circumstances, not the other way around. When I began listening to my thoughts–I mean really listening to them– it became very clear the correlation between the inner and outer world. When we impatiently strive for a change in future outward circumstances, we are turning the process on its head. To create the future we want, we have to change who we are on the inside first. The source of everything we want out there is within our own hearts.
4.) Surrender to the process. It can be tempting to try to rush the process of character development (who doesn’t want to skip a grade?), but how is that any different than pining desperately for a change in our outward circumstances? For me it goes back to acceptance of the fact my role is to be the student. Sure I might be learning multiplication or division, when I know in my heart I’m destined to one day teach metaphysics. But if there’s one thing I’m convinced of it’s this: There are no shortcuts to real character change. Everything we need comes to us at the perfect time/space sequence. Not a moment before we’re ready. After all if we’re granted super powers before we learn to feel compassion we might just destroy the world! Just as a six year old doesn’t strive to become seven, there is a process programmed into life that carries us where we need to go.
Patience isn’t something to strive for. It’s an inevitable symptom of a changed perception that is fully present in the moment, accepting of what IS, submitting to the unfolding, and seeking to change the heart before circumstances.
Do you believe we are put on this earth with character development assignments?
Have you found your soul purpose?
image: flickr creative commons Kevin Trotman