‘The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset’.
Over the past few months I have been given an opportunity to get deeply acquainted with the practice of ‘Patience’. After I had a routine mammogram this past November, followed by further tests, it was confirmed that I had breast cancer. There were more tests, more waiting to find out when my surgery would be, and then more waiting for surgery. Now as I write this, I am still waiting to heal post-op and also waiting to hear about the results of my pathology report to determine what further treatment I will need. Still more waiting looms on the horizon, mixed with a healthy dose of fear and anxiety – the angry sisters to the potential transcendence that is the gift of Patience.
Pema Chödrön reflects on Patience in her book ‘Comfortable With Uncertainty’ as being one of the six ways of compassionate living, which is traditionally referred to as the paramitas, a Sanskrit word meaning “gone to the other shore”, taking us beyond our fear of letting go. She further notes that practicing Patience in particular helps us train in abiding with the restlessness of our energy and letting things evolve at their own speed.
When I recently read these wise words, I felt it was speaking directly to the heart of my dis-ease. Over my lifetime, I’ve had many occasions to practice Patience, as it’s part and package of the human experience and it always felt like a prison sentence, exile or punishment. Perhaps this stems from all those ‘time-outs’ I encountered as a child, sitting on the dining room chair waiting for the oven buzzer to announce my freedom after some naughtiness or indiscretion. If I tried to rush the process by complaining or begging to speed things along, another minute was added. I wonder if my mother knew the deeply transformative lesson she was administering at the time, which has only just now hit me like a thunderbolt, as I write these words.
Fast-forward to the evening of February 8th following my surgery, when it was discovered that a blood vessel was leaking, causing me to potentially lose a lot of blood. There was two ways this could go, either they would try to stem the flow of blood with tight compression bandages or if that failed, back to OR I would surely go. With little time to react I found myself so tightly wrapped that all I could do was sit semi-prone in my bed taking very shallow breaths, literally willing my cells and blood to cooperate.
From 10 pm that night until 8 am the following morning I sat in my bed staring ironically at a bad painting of a Victorian woman breast-feeding her baby (I was in the maternity ward after all) and directly below an extremely loud, large clock ticking away the seconds, taunting me with the constant rhythm of the passage of time, activating my inner child waiting for that oven buzzer to sound.
Then it occurred to me, as I took shallow but mindfully meditative breaths that I could slip through time between the ticking of the clock, suspended in that place of ‘No-time’. A place where the moment streams out in all directions from my core, simultaneously happening all at once, but undeniably linked to the past, present and future of not just my own reality but everything and everyone else’s as well. Could this be the “other shore” Pema is referring to?
When I spoke to a dear friend recently about my struggle to remain patient, she reminded me that Patience is a very personal journey that one must travel alone. We can all empathize with another’s experience to remain patient, but ultimately the source of what we need to be patient about is not going to be the same. So it’s also a practice in resolving the duality of having your own personal experience but remaining connected to the big picture and all of humanity.
As I lay in my hospital bed the next morning watching the sunrise, with my husband sitting next to me, I received good news that the bleeding had indeed slowed down and all was well. They unwrapped me like a Mummy and I took my first deep, cleansing breath since the whole ordeal began, followed by ‘letting go’ and the blessed relief of a long exhalation. Moments later I heard the first cry of a baby being born from somewhere down the corridor and basked in the mystery of it all.
My Patience had reaped its reward.
~ Alexandra Nedergaard
March 4, 2017