We all have moods. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be human. It is an occupational hazard of having a body, that it is prone to cycles of activity, with each cycle bringing a different balance of chemistry and biology.
With regard to patience, this gives us a particular problem. The mind state with which we begin a task, is not the mind state that we will have half way through the task. I begin to meditate, and half way through my body may start to fidget, or my mind start to wander. I am subject to processes which operate automatically, and it can be a struggle to regain intentional control of my actions.
CURRENT MOOD STATE
In the context of patience, we need to talk about tolerance. If we examine our current mood, we might perceive that it gives us the ability to tolerate some things, but not others. For example, if I am currently tired, then I will have very little tolerance for tasks that require agile movement. Another example – if I am currently angry, then I will have little tolerance for tasks that require patience itself.
A current mood state will often reflect a natural pattern. Tiredness, for instance, at the end of a day, is a natural response to darkness, a response we have had for millions of years. Anger is a natural response to threat. During evolution, our bodies have developed systems of chemical messengers which broadcast to our bodies what is expected, and rebalance our chemistry over time. The body is not a static set of organs, but an ever-changing interplay of cyclical systems.
WORKING IN SYMPATHY
The pre-existence of chemical messaging systems gives us a choice. On the one hand, we can ignore them, and try to impose a desired mood artificially. This is the traditional ‘pull your socks up’ approach, based on a theory that self-discipline is a matter of sheer personal willpower, which somehow has dominance over everything else. On the other hand, wisdom suggests that we can work sympathetically with our chemical messaging systems, finding a compromise between our body’s behaviour, and our desired pattern of behaviour.
We could use the analogy of educating a child. We can certainly try to use force of will to somehow inject that child with knowledge, being intolerant of disobedience. This method has been fashionable in its time. But, if we are wise, perhaps we would like to work hard to understand that child, and how they think, only then working in sympathy with our mutual understanding to bring about knowledge.
In the same way, managing our moods over the hours of a day is a question of:
Having a broad idea of what behaviour we want from ourselves
Knowing where we are, at the moment, in our natural mood pattern
Working out how best to synthesise our natural mood cycle with our desired behaviour
If we attend to our own bodies and how they work cyclically, we may discover that we can increase our behavioural skill by including the following particular tactics:
Inserting breaks. A common mood mismanagement is to fail to pattern our activity to take breaks. This is like never emptying our dustbins – we do not get time to create spare capacity in our minds and bodies.
Choosing a good time. Another common mood mismanagement, is to choose a wrong moment to take an important action. Perhaps we pick up the phone to complain when we are too angry. Or perhaps we take on a big task when we are too tired.
Chunking tasks to fit our natural capacity. A third common mismanagement is to make a task far longer than our natural capacity. We exhaust ourselves, instead of pacing ourselves, because we make our task-streams continuous. Athletics coaches know that recovery time is as important as work time.
Patience is the ability to maintain one’s peaceful course in the face of a challenging world. If we do not take account of our bodies, and how they work cyclically, then we are shooting ourselves in the foot. In particular, if we balance our lives so that recovery is built in to every part of our day, then we will not exhaust ourselves, and will stay fresh. If we are fresh, and not tired, we are much more immune to irritation and anger. Therefore, because patience is the opposite of anger, we will be more patient.
I hope that this reflection helps with the understanding that patience is not just a natural skill, but an advanced behavioural skill that takes great understanding, and some planning and good self-management, to achieve.