I’m impatient by nature. Like Carrie Fisher said in her semi-autobiographical novel, Postcards from the Edge: “Instant gratification takes too long.”
Living in New York City didn’t suit me in many ways, having grown up in Southern California, by the time I moved there at age 38, I was pretty steeped in California casual. New York’s lack of ease was difficult, how every daily task required extensive suiting up, negotiating the many sharp angles and hard surfaces. One thing, however, suited me well. I am a very fast walker. Through neighborhoods, subways stations, town squares—I am swift.
What comes with this trait is an almost ever-present sense of frustration. Stay on task and deal with any obstacles with quick dispatch.
I have been known to sigh heavily—I mean HEAVILY—when stuck behind a couple strolling romantically down 5th street on a narrow sidewalk in the East Village.
I have perfected the art of approaching a street corner filled with pedestrians waiting to cross: move to the side of the crowd then step off the curb at the very first opportunity, get ahead of the pack and away.
I zig when zigging is called for, zag when it’s the better option. I have approached a wall of friends 5 people wide walking toward me and split them in half without touching a one.
I have snipped loudly--and often--at families of tourists just standing in the middle of a busy sidewalk, “it’s called a side-walk, people, not a side-stand.”
I learned to never, ever, unless absolutely unavoidable, visit Times Square, that hideous hive of slow moving Midwesterners, of school groups and church clubs, busloads of foreigners and gaggles of old ladies from the suburbs headed to a matinee.
One of my mottos could be: MOVE OUT OF MY WAY. I’m possessed of a frontal lobe more like a coal miner’s headlamp, leading me into the dark, through what at first seemed impenetrable but after moving through it became just a thing of the past.
And yet. There’s not a ton of grace in impatience.
Lao Tzu, great mystic philosopher of China, author of the Tao te Ching and founder of Taoism, wrote: “I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.”
In which case, I am a poor, poor man. I am definitely complicated, always impatient and often unkind. And here’s the funny part, I have at times in my life considered myself to be a Taoist. Maybe I should write a book called The Terrible Taost, how to fail at simplicity, patience and compassion but still call yourself a Taoist, by Chris Wells.
There are reasons why many people can’t slow down. Moving is a means of survival. It’s the flight of fight or flight. For some of us, we may have learned, before we could even speak, to move and keep moving, that being still could lead to harm.
Sometimes my shrink asks me to explore different shapes with my body, to try on different gestures. The idea is to rewire our biological patterns, right? So instead of being hunched over with shoulders curled forward, eyes looking down, brow furrowed, she asks me to sit back, to lift my shoulders, open the chest, tilt the head back slightly so it’s sort of floating at the top of the spine. How does it feel to look at the world from this vantage, instead of from this one?
Suddenly everything opens up, I can see things that are right there, but I haven’t even noticed them. My surroundings.
I worry that my writing practice might reinforce my obsession to just get things done. Over the years, I have trained my mind to open and to just follow it, recording where it goes without stopping, without worrying if it’s good or bad, rather to capture an experience of movement. I teach this, too—try to get your first draft out—a story, a chapter, a scene-- in one fluid take. Once you’ve reached an ending, see what you captured, like night fishing.
Then you can begin the real writing: rewrite, revise, edit, and finally polish. Those steps take patience.
But we must be patient with ourselves, too, right? Find the very particular ways that we function and behave and work toward compassion. You’ll recall that compassion is the third of Lao Tzu’s ridiculously impossible qualities. I mean, why did he even write that? Hand me your ancient manuscript, Lao Tzu, your Tao te Ching, Let’s see, yes, cut the part about simplicity—I mean, that’s just dumb. Then, Mr. Tzu, I see here you put patience, no, that’s not going to work either. And, I hate to break it to you, but you’re looking at a full rewrite here because compassion just isn’t realistic.
This global crisis is like one of those make-up mirrors, the magnifying kind: round, concave with the light up ring around it. Flip the switch and all of your flaws are revealed.
When exploring the pose of shoulders back, chest open, chin up, the next step is to turn the hands palm up, then tilt the head back. Take a deep breath; feel—instead of grasping, chasing, in hot pursuit—just feel what happens. Every cell in the body stops buzzing. For a moment the body says, “Ah.”
It is the arrival of acceptance.