Keep your cool when things heat up this festive season

Keep your cool when things heat up this festive season

Do you love Christmas and New Year but hate the stress they bring with them? Don’t worry you are not alone. Research from Harvard Medical School found that 62 percent of people report elevated stress levels over the holiday period. All those lists to keep track of, undone shopping, visiting family and of course, kids on holiday that want all of your attention. It’s at times like these that we need to work extra hard at building up our mindfulness muscles so we can keep focused and try not to bite anyone’s head off. And a great place to start is with cultivating patience.

One of the seven attitudes of mindfulness, patience is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as: the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious. We sat down to chat about this thing called patience, drawing on experiences we’ve had and sharing some practical tips about how to cultivate patience in moments of stress.


Talking about patience …

Lila: So jumping right in there Jane can you share with us an example in recent days of somewhere where you were patient and how that felt? Or perhaps challenged by patience in some way?

Jane: Certainly, I’m afraid it’s going to be the latter because I have lots of examples of not being patient that come to my mind. I think that I am an impatient person – because I think quickly – and my personality profile says I am an intuitive which means I get the answer quicker than most. I’m not saying it’s the right answer but it feels like it’s the right answer to me – then can get annoyed when other take a little bit longer to catch up with me. So I struggle that a lot especially with my team at work.

But maybe a better example, certainly an example I was working with the other day was walking my little dog, Alonso. So generally, when I take him walking, I take him off the lead which is fine but when we are on busy roads – we walk in Kalk Bay together –  I have to keep him on the lead. Then I notice a lot that he dawdles and stops to sniff at things. But my favourite is when he literally stops dead and stares into the middle distance. He doesn’t move and I don’t know what he is looking at – so strange. And I’m constantly having to chivvy him along to keep him moving. It’s fine when we are walking towards the beach, but really when we turn around and start coming home again, it really wears on my nerves. And then I start to get impatient.

Lila: that must be tough…

Jane: It’s like all the goodness of the walk is being undone in the last 5 minutes

Lila:  So what do you notice in your mind and body when that happens?

Jane: So like I say I was paying attention the other day, so I noticed that my body was tensing up, literally my jaw was clenched, my teeth were gritted. Of course I was raising my voice. And my mind is also clenched, a tightening so for want of better description, everything just becomes narrower and tighter and it’s uncomfortable – I am not having a happy time – I am suffering.

Lila: So how do you work with this then?

Jane: Well mostly, I realised that I don’t, I choose just to stay irritated and we get hot and bothered and we arrive home, I take the lead off, flop down on the couch and feel grumpy. But the other day, I tried a different tack. I deliberately and consciously tried to invite patience as I knew we were going to have this conversation. I tried to invite patience into the moment. First, I reminded myself that I adore my dog and I don’t particularly want to make him unhappy by shouting at him. Then I reminded myself also that the world wouldn’t end if I got home five minutes later. And lastly, I looked up, looked around myself a little while he was staring into the middle distance. I did a little staring of the middle distance of my own – I looked at the sea because I thought, you know this is crazy, the sea is right there, it’s 3 metres away and it is beautiful and by getting irritated and impatient I’m not  even noticing that I’m in this incredibly privileged place. I have this amazing opportunity to just look at the sea. And actually just looking at the sea makes me happy!

So that lasts for about 3 seconds and then I was impatient again getting cross with the dog then I turned the whole walk home into a meditation watching my mind moving back and forth between these two states – it was kind of interesting.

Lila: Sounds like quite a dance you are doing there. What you describe I think perfectly captures the work we are doing around cultivating patience. Starts with a pause – and then a choice. The pause creates the space for the choice to respond rather than react to what’s happening.

And that’s the work – yes, that’s the work – making the choice again and again to respond rather than react. That’s the gym of the mind. Remember the job of the mind is to think and in this instance the bench press is Alonso’s lack of motion on the walk.

Jane: Yep it certainly feels like it, it’s a lot of hard work – like a gym work out in the mind. I have to say that sometimes it feels so much easier just to get cross. And by  noticing the pattern I find myself getting annoyed with myself for not being able to stay patient because I’ve made the choice to be patient and then I’m not. Starts to feel like a mad person with a new layer of things to get cross about.

Lila: Sounds like you are judging yourself for being impatient. To work with that mindfully would be to notice that judgement and let it be. That’s where kindness and compassion to self, come into the picture. The act of patience IS in fact a form of self-compassion. Mindfulness gives us the opportunity to notice these things – whether its judging or being impatient or a combination of both – and in that space, we can choose to take care of ourselves in a way that lessens our suffering and that is ultimately kindness.

Toni Bernhard wrote a great piece on patience. She has a nice formula for working with impatience she says:

  1. Recognise the impatience – that it has arisen, there you are being impatient again
  2. Then investigate how the impatience feels in mind and body. So what is going on in the mind? What are the thoughts here? And in the body what are the sensations?
  3. Begin to transform impatience into patience – this takes practice patient practice.

So I loved what you said about when you paused and looked out at the sea and decided to appreciate the beauty of nature  right there by you. That was a choice you made and so you engage your curiosity to see what else is around you and that is really what she means in that third point – you were transforming that impatience to patience

Jane: I like the practical nature of those suggestions. It also strikes me that I was doing that, naturally. I devised that practice for myself. So I will persevere then with working with impatience on my daily walks with my dog. Luckily I have lots of opportunities to practice!  And I know it’s definitely worth the effort, because in those moments when I touch patience I am able to see things as they are and just to rest for a little bit. As I said earlier there is that tightening and in the moment of patience there is an opening and a relaxing into the moment which feels good. So I guess I could figure out a way to extend those moments of patience so that will definitely be a good outcome.

Lila: Beautifully said , Jane – extend that moment of patience. That’s really lovely , just to stand still in that moment.

To listen to the full audio of our conversation please click here