I’ve been trying to cultivate patience. It’s not something I was born with. Things never seemed to happen fast enough for me. My childhood impatience carried over well into my twenties. I always felt restless, always wanted to impose my will on situations and people. When I didn’t get the desired outcome, I’d become very irritated and upset. I had no emotional self-control. Constantly being ruled by emotion is exhausting. I decided to try consciously be more patient at 25, right when I started teaching. Having to lead a classroom made me aware that growing irritable was a quick way to lose control and the interest of my students.
Patience is a discipline that can grow over time. For me, it was very hard-won. I still find it difficult to be patient with myself. But I was lucky enough to find resources in developing a more peaceful way to deal with delays and setbacks. I think painting has helped me tremendously. Sometimes it comes out all wrong. Preparing and mixing paints takes time and effort. Then, the process of trying to make something beautiful can go terribly wrong. My first few failed attempts would leave me outraged and angry. Negative thoughts would stream through my mind, like: “What a waste of time. ” or “I’m terrible.” But for some reason, I kept showing up. (New to my site? You should check out my previous post, Showing Up.)
One day I realized why I kept coming back – the process of painting helped me to quiet my mind.
I’m not sure what your mind is like, but my is complicated. I think lots of thoughts and am easily distracted. I make plans for the future. I read books. I worry about things that are out of my control. I judge myself harshly. With all of these plans, hopes, fears, and ideas jumping around in my head, it can be difficult to be present. Lost in thought, I’d bump into people in the subway. I’d get irritated that they didn’t see me. Or I would be so distracted I’d be late to appointments or meetings. This would lead me to blame anything or anyone external to myself. My inability to focus and tame my mind was the problem, not the train being late or the people in the streets.
These thoughts and feelings that were always whirling around inside of me would slow down and stop completely when I started to focus on creating. A new-found patience started to grow within. I could quiet my mind more. Life became less about imposing my will on people and situations. I experienced freedom from anger and irritation because I started to realize that there is nowhere else to be but here, now. It’s been 5 years since I’ve made the decision to become more patient. My relationships with other people are better, my ability to focus has improved, and I’ve learned to let go of expectations.
Still, waiting always seems to test me. The new paintings I’ve been making require a lot of drying time. The linseed oil needs time to harden. At first, it looks slick, smooth, and saturated with color. I let my paintings dry on an old Ikea clothing rack, since I don’t have a lot of space. As the oil dries over time, the painting starts to look very different from how it started.
The surface hardens into textures and patterns. It’s less shiny.
The colors’ vibrancy also change.
New shapes and color combinations emerge that I never intended to create. It makes me realize the importance of being patient. Not forcing the painting to occur in a set time period allows something more beautiful than what I set out to create to happen on its own.
It’s almost dry enough to hang, but not quite yet. Until then, I wait. Sometimes patiently, sometimes not. When I catch myself aggressively wondering how long it will take to just be done, I stop. I think to myself, “Maybe it’s time to make a new painting”, and I move on.