The Stupidest (and Best) SuperpowerAdd bookmark
I used to think patience was a stupid skill. A skill that just got in the way of getting things done, my drive to make something of myself, my desire to matter. Sound familiar?
After going through breast cancer and the coronavirus at the same time, I now understand that patience is the skill.
It is the epitome of self-mastery. And, wow, I never thought I would ever say this, but it’s actually awesome. Let me explain.
As you already know, being a human is hard. Very hard. This is why we fill our heads and our children’s heads with stories of heroes.
Heroes with superhuman strength. Heroes who go up against the most dangerous enemies. Heroes who fight against all odds and win.
This ancient human story is so deeply embedded in the human psyche that it has a name: The Hero’s Journey. Part of every classic hero’s journey is the moment of the fall. The moment when the hero has seemingly lost everything and has no clue how they’re going to return to their feet. The future remains in shadow. The outcome is uncertain.
In most hero stories, an ally comes along to help us return. As Michael Caine’s character says to Bruce Wayne in Batman Returns: “Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
Picking yourself up is how you return. Sometimes, picking yourself up requires patience because it's hard to do when you feel the drag of fatigue that permeates not only your muscles but your spirit, as well.
And when your spirit is weary, it needs time and space. It needs patience. But it’s so tempting to want to hurry it up. To get it over with already. To move on to the next thing.
Know what I mean?
I wasn’t prepared for the return I’d have to make after dancing with cancer. I woke up one day with clean scans and clear margins. In the cancer world, this means there was no evidence of disease. This was good news, but I was still so tired.
I didn’t feel strong or resilient. I didn’t feel like celebrating. I felt like screaming. And sobbing. And disconnecting by binging on hours and hours of TV.
I kept trying to get to my feet—but each time I did, I’d stumble and fall. How could I get to my feet when it felt like I was floating in a surreal Dali landscape where nothing made sense, and nothing was what it seemed? I knew I was “supposed” to be happy. Instead, I felt lost.
My care team kept telling me, “It’s going to take time to heal. Give yourself time.”
If my body required time to heal. That would require patience. As I’ve mentioned, patience was something I was never good at.
Now? I'm good at it.
I’ve experienced waiting for weeks at a time to find out if I was going to live or die. Waited for the fear to pass. Waited for sleep. Waited for the life-giving poisons to drip into my veins. Waited for the nausea to recede, the fevers to break, the pain to stop. Waited for physical therapy to work and my strength to come back. Waited for my eyelashes, eyebrows and hair to grow back.
I would argue that we’ve all had to develop patience in the past year as we’ve struggled with the uncertainty of the coronavirus and the bumpy roll-out of the vaccine. As we’ve had to shift how we work, homeschool our kids, and learn to connect and solve problems virtually. In the constant buzz of corporate life, it’s so easy to get sucked into a constant sense of urgency-that everything must happen NOW!
But living in that buzzing energy puts chronic stress on the body, mind, emotions and spirit. While working to rehab my body and mind, I took a big break from that energy. I started a new practice to develop patience. I repeated this phrase to myself whenever I began to feel like things should be happening faster than they were: In this moment, nothing has to happen but what is happening.
And it had the most beautiful effect of giving me a sense that I had time. Time to feel all of my emotions, time to exercise my body, time to heal. This mindfulness practice was unexpectedly, a nourishing and compassionate gift I gave myself.
You have time, too.
Nothing has to happen today. You don’t have to pull yourself all the way back to your feet if you’re not ready. And your body will tell you if you’re not ready. Or your emotions. Or your spirit. If you listen.
All you need to do right now is look up from whatever you’re doing. Notice where you are. Notice what’s around you. Notice your life. In this moment, nothing has to happen but what is happening. So what's happening? What could you give yourself right now that would help you feel more balanced?