For many years I was completely confused by the idea of patience, and was certain I didn’t have any of this particular quality, or what I did have seemed to come at a cost I couldn’t endure for long. I thought patience was the ability to maintain oneself in unpleasant, difficult, painful circumstances without complaint or running for the hills. It was some infinite form of self-denial that would some how get you into heaven and keep you out of trouble.  Ouch, it hurts just to think of it.  It involved squashing all the internal news that something was amiss, something wasn’t nurturing or supportive or safe.  Thankfully, it turns out I was wrong about patience.  Patience is something else. It isn’t the denial of anything, but the willingness to be with everything.

A few months ago I had the honor of spending a couple of hours with our ancestors the Sequoias. I stooped down and ate the soil at their roots and stood inside the hollow of their trunk. I felt the reach of heights I’d never imagined.  I felt my roots sink into rich earth.

I have this distant memory of being a young girl visiting my grandmother in California and coming upon the biggest tree in the world. My memory is more of its great width than its great height. I was tiny and it was huge and I remember my arms reaching out and making their way around hardly any of the great trunk.  I carried the width of this tree with me as some sort of potentiality of what one could become.

When I walked through the red woods early this spring, again in California, I was of course profoundly awed by the great width and height of these trees, but now it was their deep, abiding, enormous, graceful, strong presence that bowled me over.  I went to the woods alone, but have rarely in life felt so not alone. These were not trees, or at least not trees as I’d imagined them. Whatever misconception I’d been carrying for years about trees as separate from me and somehow less conscious than I was, were let go of here.

These trees were here: totally and completely present and manifesting a quality of patience and grace I’d not met before.  Maybe not because I’d not come across it before, but because I’d not until this moment been able to receive it in this way.  These ancestors had cultivated contentment so deep and strong over their many century lifetimes from seed to seedlings to now ancient, enduring presence.  All I could do was stand in witness and let their patience sink into my relatively young, flitty, distracted, confused being. And remember that they once were a seed, a sprouted seedling, a small tree, but they had the capacity to stay right there where they were and take in the great life around them and so they grew and grew, without any agenda about where they were going or what they were becoming.

Patience is a movement in this moment toward being present with the uncomfortable inside our bodies, a willingness to open toward and allow these sensations to be here along with everything else we are experiencing.  Sometimes when we are willing to include these feelings and sensations in our lives we realize it is time to shift our outer circumstances to more deeply support what is emerging inside. We move our bodies and discover new ways to stand in the world. Sometimes when we stay right where we are with what is uncomfortable without pushing it away or pushing it down we realize it is bearable, that we don’t have to leave or get a new job or scream at the neighbor.  We can live as this sensation, we can live with this experience, we can stay right on the spot and wake up.

The other spirit of patience I know is the capacity to not know, the willingness to live in our lives without knowing how a conflict will be resolved or if it will be resolved, how we will survive or if we will survive, where we will end up or what it will all be like. And out of this event of patience, of including everything in our experience and drawing from our center of strength—a center we might not even know exists until we come into this patience—we will grow as content and open hearted as the great Sequoia, or better yet we will grow into our fullest selves, what ever that is for us, that we can’t imagine from where we are, but is there none-the-less inside of us taking root.

This post is part of the series, The Seedlings of Listening, and includes the posts I Am Mother and Tenderness.

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