If ever there was a month that embodied the concept of patience, it has to be February. Every year I both dread and adore February. Dread it, because it is a long, bitter stretch between the winter Solstice and the arrival of spring. Adore it, because it signals we are now well beyond the halfway point of winter and although still not visible, much is beginning to stir in anticipation of warmer days ahead.
We humans have created ways of helping ourselves through this long waiting part of winter by marking special dates such as Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day and Family Day. All are fueled by the eternal hope that spring can’t possibly be that far off.
The origins of Groundhog Day are rooted in the Celtic Festival of Imbolc which means “in the belly” or “ewe’s milk”. Imbolc pays homage to the rising energy that sheep feel this time of year as they prepare to lamb. But it also acknowledges the quickening of new life deep within the snow-covered ground that can only be sensed when we slow down, tune in and really listen. I like to think this is actually what our modern ambassador, the groundhog, is doing every second day of February, as opposed to merely looking for his shadow.
In ancient Irish tradition, St. Brigid was said to be the bringer of the first signs of new life. On the eve of Imbolc it was the custom to leave a piece of cloth or ribbon hanging on a tree limb outside a house. As St. Brigid (who was also a goddess to the Celts) traveled across the land spreading her “cloak” of restorative powers, the cloth would absorb her energies. That cloth could then be used to help with healing the sick, as an amulet of protection or a prayer to ensure spring's return.
Patience is a quality that arises out of this direct observation of the rhythms innate within life itself. It is a feeling of peace and acceptance as we come to understand that the means and the ends to any goal are not different and, that in order to reach a goal, we must simply practice it – here and now, the way the ancient Irish did. As Jack Kornfield writes, “In the deepest way it [patience] understands that what we seek is what we are, and it is always here.”
The Christian Bible describes patience as “waiting for God”. If we are willing to accept the duration of time required to accomplish something, and have faith that it will
be accomplished, then we are practicing patience. Such patience arises from a place of deep knowing that all will unfold, in its right sequence, and all in due time. Yet, as so often happens, when we try to hurry things along, we create an imbalance of energies that almost always sabotages whatever results we are seeking or hoping for.
“With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown.” ~ Chinese Proverb
Patience is what fills that space between our dreams and their manifestation, but impatience too often creeps into our lives and wreaks havoc. Sometimes it surfaces in our own small unconscious acts of intervention. At other times it is the eruption of sudden unexpected rage that results in something being ruined or someone getting hurt. Whatever way impatience finds expression or manifests itself, it means we have let our frustration get the better of us.
Impatience is something I am finding myself very aware of right now. Perhaps it’s just the winter blues but it may also be the forewarning by my personal numerology that, however much I want to get things done, this will be a year of cultivating my creative projects for the long haul, not the short-term. Already, in this year’s first few short weeks, I have had to remind myself, over and over, to be more accepting of the present and all its inherent slow-downs, cancellations and postponements; to be more engaged with the "now", instead of anxiously fixating on the future. This is certainly no easy task!
Even when I’m in my “happy place” and painting or writing, I can feel impatience gnawing away in the background, pressuring me to go faster, to just get the job done or switch to a new strategy. But this type of forceful approach only serves to stifle the creative flow which, like Nature, must follow its own rhythm in order to effectively deliver.
My obligation as an artist is simply to show up, listen attentively to this rhythm and place myself within its presence; to patiently work alongside and with
that flow … because it is the creative process that is in charge, not me. When I do show up in this more deliberate way, with a concentrated but relaxed mind, then and only then, does the magic unfold.
It’s interesting to note that the Greek origin of the word patience is pathos
… which means suffering. Yet patience is a source of energy of the highest order that works on every aspect of our being: physical patience makes our body function better and calms the nerves, emotional patience helps us handle all that impatience much more effectively, and mental patience is the foundation for acquiring greater wisdom.
In a world where we now get easily agitated over the slow response time of even the fastest computer and expect immediate “hits” from social media posts, we are missing out on this vital lesson about waiting and being patient.
In the natural world there is no agitation or rushing. We we will never hear the sun telling the moon to hurry up and complete its cycle because time is of the essence and its own job needs to get done. The sun simply goes about its business and allows the moon to go about hers. Both follow their own natural paths, in accordance with the laws of nature. So why should we humans be any different …?
With our very "unnatural" technology we are now only ever a click away from a result, a click away from immediacy. As the pace of modern life pushes us more and more frantically, insisting that agendas be prepared, decisions made and prompt action taken, it is easy to get confused and frustrated … but we lose so much of ourselves in the process. In such moments we must not be afraid to pull back and wait awhile.
Good decision making rarely flows well from pressurized feelings, self-imposed or otherwise. It can only flourish when we are relaxed, reflective and able to draw on our inner wisdom to arrive at the best course of action. Pavlovian, knee-jerk responses (which we all make at times) only serve to work against us by bypassing our deeper knowing. What we need to recognize is that choosing to wait and consider our options does not mean we are doing nothing about the situation; it means we are allowing
sufficient time to see what else develops. This, of course, requires patience.
“Do you have the patience to wait until the mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?“ ~ Lao Tzu
While patience is deeply embedded in Nature, it is up to us to choose to honour that wisdom by noticing the lessons she is constantly demonstrating for us. Nature has her own time, a time of seasonality, where everything moves to its own internal rhythm and movement. We humans have no right to influence or change that simply because we haven’t the patience to stay present and wait.
“Patience is a form of vital silence;
silence being a spiritual quality”
Patience is very deeply connected to faith, but even in our spiritual life we have the tendency to hope that something “big” will happen - a major breakthrough or a life-changing mystical experience. And, if we are lucky enough to have one, we then often shift the craving and grasping we used to apply to worldly things to the spiritual realm … and then experience a whole new form of frustration and dissatisfaction.
At some point, every seasoned seeker begins to realize that at the heart of life is not the continual striving for future attainments or the perpetually unfinished task of “self-improvement.” Rather, the essence of the quest is to obtain the deep peace that comes with total acceptance and true contentment. Having patience and faith is saying “I will wait for God” … I will allow that which has created me, to create the perfect environment, circumstances, facilities and faculties. I trust that all will unfold as it should.
So in the midst of this long, cold winter, let us honour the inward call to waiting that is to be found in February. Let us embrace this fallow time before St. Brigid begins trailing her cloak of renewal across the landscape and releasing all that spring exuberance. And let us know that to wait in such a manner is an ancient call and practice that unites us with the many seekers before us who have learned to trust in the patient unfolding of life, just as it is.
This Family Day weekend marks the mid-point of February … which means there is still plenty of winter left to spend some time in my warm and cozy studio learning new watercolour techniques, making mandalas or taking up drawing or acrylic painting. Be sure to continue reading through this newsletter to see what workshops and course you can indulge in or click here to visit my website for all the listings at a glance.
NEED A LITTLE EXTRA NOURISHMENT FOR YOUR SOUL?
In case you missed my emails at the beginning of the year, you can now sign up to receive weekly “Soul Snippets”, smaller bits of beauty, truth and wisdom, delivered every Sunday morning to your inbox.
Each “snippet” features an inspiring image and a quote to nourish your spirit, plus a few questions to contemplate throughout the week.
The feedback I’ve been receiving has been wonderfully positive so thank you to all who are already enjoying them! If you want to check out Soul Snippets and sign up click here.
May you enjoy the dance!