THE BLOG
12/02/2014 01:46 pm ET Updated Feb 01, 2015

The Wisdom of Patience

Practicing the Art of High
Involvement & Low Attachment

"Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character." -- Heraclitus

A martial arts student went to his master teacher and said earnestly, "I am devoted to learning your art form. How long will it take me to obtain the highest degree black belt?" The teacher's reply was casual, "Ten years." Impatiently, the student answered, "But I want to master it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice with great effort every day, 10 or more hours a day, everyday, if I have to. How long will it take then?" The teacher thought for a moment and says, "In that case, it will take 20 years."

Because impatience has been my longtime nemesis, the above ancient parable quickly came to mind as I sat behind the potters wheel for my first ceramics class at the Clay Studio & Gallery in Thousand Oaks, California. I have reached a point in my life where it has become apparent it's time to find a few new creative outlets that continue to stimulate my growth and feeds me with a sense of accomplishment. What I learned instantly from my ceramics teacher, Esther, is there is no such thing as instant gratification in making a bowl on the pottery wheel. The first words out of her mouth were just what I did NOT want to hear: "Now this is going to require some patience." While my inner mindfulness-meditation teacher took a deep breath and smiled, silently affirming, "But of course it will," that 10-year-old boy trapped in this man's body was clamoring to get his hands into the sticky, muddy clay and go for it ASAP with abandon. With Esther's calm guidance, as the wheel started spinning I centered my clay and opened it in the middle. So far so good. Then as I started to quickly lift the edge of the bowl, applying equal pressure from both the inside and outside with two fingers, the thin wall of the bowl started wobbling and Esther again calmly admonished me to slow down and have patience because if I went too fast the fragile clay would fly apart. The good news is, slow and steady won the race and my first bowl was born.

Admittedly, I was very impressed with myself until Esther said, "Nice work! Next week you can do step two." Next week... step two? You mean I have to wait until NEXT week to get to step two? OMG! Was she saying I had more to learn, more time to wait before I could take "my" bowl home and put some chips and guacamole in it? No doubt patience was a lesson that had my name all over it so I took a deep breath and went home empty handed.

Fast forward to the second week when I was taught to trim the bowl and sign my name on the bottom preparing it for its first firing. Then, more waiting. Now fast forward to week three when the bowl was painted, glazed and prepared for its final firing in the kiln. Lastly, jump ahead to week four when I FINALLY had the pleasure of munching on some chips directly from my newly finished creation. Whew! Delayed gratification is such a high price to pay for the privilege of learning and creating something new.

Can you relate? Where in your life might more patience be needed? While there is always room for improvement when it comes to having patience with other people, I am referring to the patience we have with ourselves. The first step is knowing that regardless of what we are endeavoring to learn, create, or achieve, patience is the connective tissue that unifies the beginning, middle, and the end of the process. I use the example of making pottery because, clearly, a raw hunk of clay doesn't become a finished bowl on its own in one day, nor does a novice student become a master of anything worth creating in one day. Metaphorically, we could say that we are all students on the potter's wheel of life learning how to shape our lives. The key is to remember there is a timeline involved in any creative process that needs to be honored. Becoming a master of anything worth doing requires the wisdom of patience and it begins with our next breath... and then the next...and then the next, creating the spaciousness between breaths for the unfolding of our true passion, genius, and soul.

How do we best implement the wisdom of patience? Over time I have learned the mindfulness practice of "high involvement and low attachment." This means being highly involved in the moment with little or no attachment to the results which may take time to unfold. This practice invites the mind and the body to be in the present moment at the same time which is where and when the bliss of "being and doing" joyfully intersect and commingles as our experience. That is what patience does: It invites us to embrace the moment and get our hands in that sticky, muddy clay called life and mindfully shape it in a manner that expresses who we authentically are. The good news is you don't have to be a 10-year-old kid to do that... and that really is a beautiful thing.

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