“All we need is just a little patience” crooned Axl Rose back in 1989. At the time, I placed little importance in the words of the tight-pant-clad, swaying rocker. But I should have.
I could have learned it from the story of Job, who discovered patience after he loses everything – and thus his attachment to having anything. (Buddhism in the Bible?) Or I could have picked it up watching parking ticket cops, who have to use this skill in the workplace. They remain neutral and calm, even when faced with the verbal abuse of many rather impatient parking violators.
But how do the rest of us develop patience?
My patience was tried the most not on tour buses with partying band boys, or during forced Sunday school classes with my United Methodist parents, or even in security at Immigration (where dedicated officers may have enjoyed learning about “body modification”), but during my treatments for breast cancer almost seven years ago.
I was recording an album at the time, and chemotherapy treatments did not stop the studio schedule. Just as I would be ready for my vocal recording, my glands would swell in my neck and throat, or my surgical port would be infected, and I would have to reschedule.
Or, if my white blood cell counts were too low, my chemo session would be postponed, leaving me with more anxiety about my future and my survival.
I was no longer able to predict exactly how I was going to feel from day to day. I constantly chased my tail, and got very frustrated, like most patients in the same position. The loss of control, over everything from my eating habits to my hair falling out, was overwhelming.
Finally, I had to just let go of my chronic desire to plan and just be totally flexible and easygoing about each day. Almost in an apathetic way.
I would keep that damn smile plastered to my face and force myself to be positive no matter what, and for that I had to be patient with myself and my anxieties. I had to learn, and keep practising, “non-attachment” throughout the variables of my cancer treatments, like what time of day I would need to lie down, what foods would or would not agree with me, or even if and when I could use the john.
Sometimes, I would self-talk myself off the ledge and say to myself, “Knock it off, Beth [yes, that’s my given name}. It does not matter.” When faced with having to cancel studio sessions, workouts, or even cooking dinner for my friends, I had to force myself to see the bigger picture and realize that everything and anything can always be rescheduled. And the more I made these honest decisions, the more I found patience with myself.
A Buddhist saying I returned to over and over is “When the cloudy pool of water settles, it will become clear.” It remained my “patience mantra” through my cancer treatments and even through my subsequent divorce.
The truth is, you have to be patient if you want to have patience. That’s why the Buddhists call it “practising patience,” though I suspect most fourth-grade teachers know even more about this than many monks.
I still find myself reaping the rewards. In sorting out the difference between big problems and little ones, I find that I have a running inner monologue that says: “Stop. Relax. It does not matter.” And I am able to mindfully respond (instead of react) to almost anything that creates a ripple in my day, my week or even my emotions.
I now identify my impatience the moment I feel it rising. Just thinking about being in a chemo chair brings any anxiety to a halt, and I take a deep breath, knowing that all that matters is this moment in time, and that being impatient serves no purpose.
Many people believe that patience is a “virtue” but for me it looks more like faith in yourself, your vision or your return to health. And once you get “just a little patience,” it becomes an addiction. Patience feels good.
You also don’t have to be a Guns n’ Roses fan, but it might help.
Bif Naked is an international recording artist, cancer survivor, poet and activist currently working on her first book with Harper Collins. Loving and living in Vancouver and Paris, simultaneously. You can follow her on Twitter at @bifnaked