Feeling impatient with my impatience.
December 7, 2013 2:13 PM   Subscribe

I am impatient. Not with standing in line or waiting for my name to be called (I actually don't mind that), but with life. I cannot sustain a practice of "living in the moment". If you know how to be patient and wait through the unknown for your life to unfold, please mentor me through this! I'm desperately tired of being this way.

I have a serious problem with thinking 3-5 steps ahead, and getting excessively anxious when I don't know what's going to happen next. This is currently playing itself out in two significant areas of my life: career and relationships.

Career: I am currently working on a PhD. In the first year of my PhD I left my career (had 8 yrs in the field) to take what I thought was a simpler, less time consuming job and live with family to save money. I'm no longer happy at that job (it's causing more stress and energy drain than I want...but my impatience may be the problem) but I have no idea where to go next. I feel trapped. I still have about 1.5 years left on my program, so while it would be great to go ahead and get a job related to my degree that I can keep after I graduate, I'm not sure exactly what that is (my location has few opportunities, and moving may cost me too much while in school). I'm looking for a better job, but the right opportunities aren't popping up and I'm not even sure what direction to take, so looking causes me stress. If I could afford to, I would quit working and simply be a student full time because that's where I really want to put my energy. Mathematically I don't think that's possible, and realizing that what I really WANT is out of reach hurts. I wish I could make it work. People ask me what I'm doing and what I want to do, and I'm scared to say "I have no clue". I desperately need a clue...I need to know this is all going to work out.

Relationships: Been divorced for several years (over it). Have had several short dating relationships this year. However, I tend to jump into the "So are we going to try a relationship? Great. Let's make plans, talk about our needs, etc". Basically, I want to know if someone wants to focus their time/attention on me. Big question marks about what someone wants, are they ready, etc. I can't handle. Right now I have friendships with two different guys who have a small potential to be a good match for me. I find myself wanting to know for sure if this is going to be friendship only or are they interested in something more. I know one guy recently divorced and is just not ready for seriousness yet. The other one...I don't know. And it's not knowing that is causing me much anxiety. I can be OK with it for a couple of days, then something happens and I get back into anxious/worry mode. I am quite aware that I must hold all of this back from this guy if I don't want to scare him away (although we've talked about my impatience before and he is very sweet and supportive in encouraging me) I can't reveal to him what a bundle of nerves I am right now. I really don't want to scare him away, and yet knowing he has an interest in me would be so soothing to me right now.

How can I find peace with not knowing how my future will unfold? How can I live and focus on the day to day/moment to moment life? I am spiritual, and I believe that right now I'm in a "testing/learning" part of my life...that I am being presented with the opportunity to really learn patience and staying in the moment. And I want to learn this lesson! I'm so tired of feeling the way I do right this minute...keyed up, emotional, scared, worried. Religious/spiritual resources welcomed if you are so inclined. MeMailed conversations about this equally welcomed (because this may be an ongoing conversation).

Please help calm me down and keep me "in the moment".

**Telling me to do yoga or meditate isn't helpful. Telling me how to turn my brain off WHILE doing yoga or meditating will be helpful.
posted by MultiFaceted to Human Relations (12 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Meditation isn't about turning your mind off. I once was listening to a meditation lesson online that made a helpful point - thinking is your mind's JOB, so it's counterproductive to try to switch it off or stop thinking for a period of time.

Meditation is more about cultivating a still mind, in which you can let thoughts pass through (impatience, anxiety, reluctance, etc), observing them with a sort of detachment, rather than letting them grip you.

I'm very visual, so I often visualize emotions as the words themselves sort of floating in the air in front of me. I think about holding them, squeezing gently and letting them go.

I'm also prone to impatience and this has helped me a lot. One thing to remember is that it takes practice. I feel like if you were going to teach someone to ice skate or ride a bike or cook a nice steak it would be understood that a few tries wouldn't do it. You might not notice results for a while once you start practicing meditation, and change may come excruciatingly slowly. But it will come.
posted by sweetkid at 2:34 PM on December 7, 2013 [8 favorites]

A Taoist story tells of an old man who accidentally fell into the river rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his life. Miraculously, he came out alive and unharmed downstream at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive.

"I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived."

I remembered this from reading a long time ago and found a paraphrased version on Zen Stories.

Fear is a natural response, sometimes it is the act of doing nothing that requires the most courage and perseverance. Mind you, that doesn't mean that you always need to accept things, but it becomes important to understand when struggling may be detrimental.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:43 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Meditating is the only answer here, as far as I can tell. There is no magic answer, and no shortcuts. Mindfulness meditation isn't about turning your brain off, it's about noticing what thoughts are floating in and out and about slowly becoming more self aware and in control of those thoughts over a period of time. It's about accepting that this is part of who you are and that's okay, and curbing it so it doesn't annoy you or cause problems. (Sweetkid just beat me to it) You could try guided meitations, having a bell ring intermittently, or doing insight meditation (which from my recent reading described a method where you methodically think about your physical body).

I like Pema Chdron, and most other authors on this topic make me want to gag, so there's her books to try.

Exercise...a lot of it. Wear yourself out!

Feel free to MeMail me.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:44 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

They've said it in other ways, but yoga/sitting aren't about finding a quiet place to do them in, it's about doing them to find a quiet place. That's the realization it took me awhile to figure out. You'll have to find your own way there, regardless.
posted by kcm at 4:12 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I hit those big moments of future uncertainty, I game it out as much as possible, especially the negative outcomes, figuring out how I'd handle each one, evaluating how prepared I am, etc. This has two effects: first, large dread-inducing uncertainties become more manageable possibilities; second, I feel prepared for them, so it's easier to say "okay, wait to see what happens, because no matter what happens, I'm ready for it." Lastly, unlike advice to meditate, this is an active process for an active mind, so it can occupy you usefully while you get over the moment.
posted by fatbird at 4:15 PM on December 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seems to me your problem is an issue with time. Although there are many excellent, and to my mind, true observations above, you might find it helpful to shift your viewpoint.
People who are depressed often dwell in the past, ruminating. People who are focused on the future can be anxious. Life is happening now, the present. Supposedly John Lennon echoed an earlier sentiment when he said "Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans."

There are a lot of insightful comments about meditation above because meditation encourages being present.

You might find the Stoics worth reading. I found The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius reminded me a lot of Buddhism. (I find the basic Buddhist notions about craving and aversion very helpful. Even something as non-esoteric as Buddhism For Dummies is useful.) Marcus Aurelius has some worthwhile thoughts about dying in battle now, tomorrow or 10 years from now.
posted by PickeringPete at 5:39 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

In every life, it seems, there are moments where we are caught on "pause." To me, it sounds more like you have a low tolerance for uncertainty than a problem with impatience.

I find 3 things helpful in times like these.

1) I like these 2 Rainer Maria Rilke quotes because they speak to me:
"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

2) I, personally, find the ritual of daily prayer does more for me than meditation. I expect they have similarities though...my religion has set prayer times and set liturgy and I find that very comforting and the certainty of the words, the tune, the rhythm reassuring when everything else seems uncertain.

3) Try and find things to enjoy about where you are right now. Enjoy your classes--they won't be so easy to take again. Enjoy your colleagues, your mentors. Enjoy the ability to join fun groups. Find the parts of your job that are fun and try and leave what you can at work. There is always something you can enjoy in the moment. To quote Mary Poppins "In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and...snap." Yes, that's a bit trite, but it is true that if you can find the fun part it relieves the stress.

At any rate, feel free to me-mail. I am happy to have a conversation and try and help where I can.
posted by eleanna at 6:50 PM on December 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

These are tough things and getting past them will require sustained hard work. I've not managed to deal with this kind of thing through meditation either. What I do find generally works for worrying about the future and feeling bad about the present are these things*:

Embrace uncertainty - The only thing any of us can count on is change. Not accepting that doesn't alter anything, it just makes you feel bad for no reason. Not having a clue about your future doesn't strike me as a negative thing at all, but desperately needing to know something that is inherently unknowable seems to be a guaranteed way of feeling bad. Uncertainty is a given for most of us, most of the time. Given that you can't do anything about it, try to put energy into making it work for you.

Shift perspective - Learn to find the good in things. When you find yourself thinking/feeling something is bad, gently look for the good in it. There is always something; if not about the specific situation, then about your life generally. Remind yourself how incredibly lucky you are to have a home, access to clean water and food, to be able to afford higher education and to live in a country where you won't be persecuted for having independent thoughts. It takes practice if you're not used to looking on the bright side, but it gets much easier over time.

One good thing you already know about your current situation is that you have a rare and valuable opportunity to grow. These opportunities don't tend to come up that often; you're very lucky! Another is that not knowing where your future lies means that your options are open. Not being committed to either of the guys you're seeing means that you have the chance to meet someone who really lights your fire. Taking time with them means you can get to know them better before you make decisions that are hard to reverse. There are wonderful things happening everywhere. The more you train yourself to be aware of and appreciate them, the happier you will be.

Encourage happy thoughts - I find it much easier to fill my mind with thoughts that make me feel good, or at least not feel bad, than I do to stop thinking about things that unsettle me. If I'm struggling to get to sleep due to worrying thoughts for example, I just think about something engaging that doesn't make me tense, like the plot of a book or movie I like. At other times, I just try to fill my mind with neutral or happy thoughts, of any sort, so I don't have "room" for worrying. This works really well for me. I also remind myself that worry just adds to my woes needlessly, because it just gives me something else distressing to deal with, on top of the problem.

Don't be hard on yourself - Not sure if this applies, but worry has always been tied up with high expectations for me. I used to be extremely tough on myself for not being perfect. I was finally able to start to get over this when I became a parent and learned to treat my daughter with the patience and acceptance that seemed appropriate. Once I started applying the same loving tolerance to myself, I became less tense.

Good luck, and remember that many other good people struggle with similar hardships.

* Most of which I learned from reading The Art of Happiness, by the Dalai Lama & Howard Cutler.
posted by mewsic at 8:36 PM on December 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

Regarding being impatient about relationships: This seems to me to be a control issue - wanting the illusion of being in control. Changing your actual thoughts around relationships might help you experience more acceptance and help you to let go. One thought that has helped me: at some point I realized that if you met a new friend, you would never ask that person to commit to being your friend forever or for five years, etc. You just let the friendship grow organically. And most people let their friendships ebb and flow naturally - sometimes you are closer and sometimes more distant. It helps me to think of relationships like that - something that will happen naturally if you are both enjoying each other's company. Good luck.
posted by gt2 at 12:48 AM on December 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Patience as a quality does not exist in isolation, it needs supports. Rather than working on it directly, could you see it as a part of a whole? For example, patience is seen as the opposite of anger, as related to loving-kindness, good-will, rejoicing in other people's happiness. It may also be helpful to consider the 'fruits' of patience,

... one who has patience will be able to tolerate all criticisms or irritating remarks which would ordinarily incite retort or refutation; and by virtue of this noble attribute, he will earn respect and approbation from others. He will also receive help and assistance when occasion arises and can bring about closer intimacy between himself and other friends. Nobody would hate him. These advantages or benefits are quite conspicuous. (Thank you Mahasi Sayadaw).
posted by claptrap at 7:14 AM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I cannot sustain a practice of "living in the moment".

Its a moment by moment battle and you lose half of them. You are essentially living in the moment some of the time. It is impossible to do it all of the time. So what you want is to learn to do it more of the time.

First, I'm going to suggest an easy meditation practice you can do every day. Sit in a chair and pay attention to your breath. When a thought enters your mind or you are distracted, mentally say "thinking" to yourself and then go back to focusing on the breath. Try building up to 15 minutes a day.

Second, try to note when these anxiety things start and what's going on in your head when they are happening. Observe them. Just learning about them will allow you to figure out your own ways of coping specific to you.

Third, learn to fully experience being anxious. Many of my problems with anxiety involve me actually stuffing it down and it popping up all of the time. So now, when I feel it and I'm also aware of what I could be doing, I allow the more physical feelings from the anxiety to happen in my body. The stuff like the tightness in the chest and all of that. Let it happen and let it pass. Make sure you're not running away from it all day.

Fourth, when you are worrying, what's the context? Are you worried during times when there is no decision to be made about issues? I say that's a good time to let yourself feel the anxiety and let it go and not make "important decisions" about your life that seem to reduce the anxiety for a few minutes because the problem is solved. Say to yourself "this isn't the time for this life decision, I'm at the movies" etc. Generally make decisions when its appropriate.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:52 AM on December 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

I replied to the question as posed. Upon reflection and after reading your other posts, I wonder if you have asked the right question. I think everybody here really wants to help but if you dole out things piecemeal, you very much lessen your chances of finding a proper solution.

If I have understood correctly, you are a female in her late 30s, divorced, have had anxiety issues for a while, seen a therapist and been on medication. You have acknowledged that you have issues with perfectionism and control. You are taking a PhD, although that has complicated your life greatly. You were having great trouble this summer in narrowing down material and picking a thesis topic. You perceived that all your peers were handling this easily, while you were so overwhelmed that you were crying. (This should set off flags.) You are living with your parents, and working at a fairly new shift job, while trying to make progress with your studies. Your love life is up in the air. You want, actually really need, certainty but you don’t know where you are going or why.

That is an awful lot to cope with.

If this is essentially correct, I would suggest the following.

1. Go back and see your therapist again and if you need meds, get them. Get yourself stable. Make sure that the therapist knows that you are trying to untangle some "intertwingled" problems and having difficulty. If you aren’t working from a stable base, being alone with your thoughts is probably not a good idea.

2. I would make your top priority, working on yourself. I would tackle the perfectionism and control issues: they will just keep on coming back and biting you. Gt2 caught a whiff of this when he/she wondered if you have control issues. If you can't afford to use a therapist for this, you could look at "Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy", and do the exercises. Perfectionism has been discussed a number of times on metafilter. I suggest you look at what others have said about this, on this site.

3. You have something of a Gordian knot in your arrangements. I would suggest cutting through that knot by shelving your PhD plans so that you have freedom in finding work and creating your own home. If you don't know why you are taking the PhD, it seems that you are causing yourself a lot of trouble and complexity for no good reason.

4. Figure out what you want to do with your life. (Is the PhD just a tactic for delaying having to answer the tough questions? Is it something that validates you or fulfills parental aspirations?) Once again, you can use the resources of metafilter. Two books by B. Sher, “Wishcraft” and “It’s Only Too Late if You Don’t Start Now” are useful in figuring out what you want to do with yourself (Wishcraft) and overcoming obstacles and excuses (It’s Only Too Late).

5. If you don’t have any true friends, the kind who will tell you what you need to hear, make some. If you are involved in organized religion, reach out to your rabbi, minister, priest, whatever. They can probably help you, even if it is only to act as a sounding board.

6. Jrobin276 mentioned Pema Chodron. I think that is a wonderful suggestion. I like “When Things Fall Apart”. I doubt that Chodron imagined, as she was living in her adobe house in New Mexico, that her husband was about to come home, announce he was having an affair and demand a divorce. I doubt that she imagined her journey would lead to her becoming the spiritual head of an abby in the Maritimes of Canada and a notable in her field. Life did not unfold as she was expecting.

7. I find that there are some very good ideas in Buddhism (I view it as philosophy) but if you find that off-putting, you can find similar ideas in reading the Greek philosophers (impermanence), the Stoics, Thoreau, William James. I think it helps to develop a philosophy of life.

8. Some people find that religion or more specifically a belief that God has a plan for them and will take care of them, to be an anchor for their lives. But if you do not have that kind of faith, then you have to look elsewhere.

9. I think that there is a gap between medicine (mental health) and spiritual health. Gabor Mate, a psychiatrist in Vancouver, dealing with addicts, finds it appropriate to use a Buddhist term: the hungry ghosts. There is an constant emptiness inside many people, an emptiness that cannot be filled, no matter how much food, booze, drugs, shopping, sex, whatever is consumed. Some people try to distract themselves with work.

10. If you do read the Sher book, you will see how a lot of people are pre-programmed and end up at around 40 wondering how in earth they ever got to where they are and why they are not happy. Some people are quite content with marriage, kids, a routine job and then the pension. They bought into the pre-programmed life and distract themselves. But if you are not one of them, you have a lot of work ahead of you. I think there really is a choice between the blue pill and the red pill.

11. There are no bromides. Everybody has to find his or her own path and what works for them. Obviously a lot of people find that meditation is helpful and many find the notions behind Buddhism valuable, and that they can co-exist alongside orthodox religion without conflict.

12. Meditation is a technique or discipline. Your question as posed sort of comes across as your search for better technique but I think you may need to go deeper and and look into some of the principles behind it.

I hope you find a solution that works for you.
posted by PickeringPete at 8:59 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older Help with cutting a gent's hair   |   Cuckoo cuckoo? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.