Patience is often in short supply. Our relationship with time is such that we want things now, not later. That is pretty much the definition of impatience.
Our medical pathologies don’t really like words such as patience and impatience. They seem too undramatic. Impatience doesn’t sound like an illness – more a part of normal human existence. And patience doesn’t sound like a medicine – more an aspiration.
However, just as the pressure of blood flow has been identified as a health measure, so the pressure of mental flow could perhaps be identified as a health measure. If we are really serious about treating the mind as well as the body, then we would do well to consider the health effects of impatience.
Studies of young children seem to have identified patterns of behaviour that start when we are very young, and are likely to travel with us through our lives. There is a body of research into how children handle deferred gratification, showing that impatient children (the ones who can’t wait to take a biscuit when left unattended, for instance) often turn into impatient adults (the ones who can’t wait to fulfil other appetites when left unattended, for instance).
Let’s briefly consider the matter of flow. First, lets think of blood pressure. Roughly, the health argument goes like this… The heart is a pump, and our veins and arteries are our plumbing system. If blood pressure is higher, then two dangers arise: the pump will wear out faster, and our pipes may break sooner. Furthermore, if our pipes ‘fur up’ over time, accumulating sediment and losing their original pristineness, then we have a cloggy system. The pump has to work harder, and the whole thing can escalate.
Applying this kind of thinking to patience, and what do we get. Perhaps think of your imaginative brain as a pump, pumping out thoughts. The rest of your brain and body are your ideas plumbing system, handling the flow of thoughts arising. If your imagination is fired by alarm and worry, it sends out a whole chain of imagined concerns, situations, thoughts and worries. This gives two dangers. Firstly, we will become exhausted by our brain’s overactivity. And secondly, we may overload, and break, our normal thought channels, which aren’t built for such sustained pressure. Furthermore, if we don’t maintain our thought channels, they can ‘fur up’ like arteries. The result is a very cloggy thinking system, and it feels like we are wading through mental fudge.
Welcome to the world of anxiety and depression, where such a feeling is commonplace.
Just for today, see what you can do to reduce the pressure on yourself by choosing a gentle stream of relaxed thoughts. In other words, see if your mental pump can relax a bit. Secondly, if you can, see what you can do to relax your ‘thought arteries’, allowing thoughts through without trying to block or change them.
Good meditation is just this. A relaxed and focused mental pump, feeding an accepting and open set of mental channels.
Just as the body’s blood pressure can be implicated in poor health, so perhaps we can introduce a concept of mental pressure.
Just as we try to reduce the pressure on our heart (a pump) and our veins and arteries (our pipes)… so perhaps we can try to reduce the overactivity of our worried imaginations by achieving calm focus (a good mental pump); and also building healthy, open channels of thought (good mental pipework).
It’s not a perfect analogy, but it does point to how we might envisage the impatient mind as unhealthy, and the patient mind as healthy.