Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
I want to talk about patience. Not the kind of patience that is just a struggle with impatience, but real, engaged, wholehearted presence in the moment as it is. The kind of patience that is able to bear and stay with whatever is happening, including an event's pace and content.
In this direction, I know a boy, who happens to be my son, and who possesses a delicious zeal for whatever is at hand. When he becomes interested in something—playing the guitar, skateboarding, making oobleck—he pursues it with full passion.
Once, the boy and I were riding our bikes side by side along a trail through the woods, talking. "I want a dirt bike so much it hurts," he said. I wanted to laugh when he said that, because I remembered being seven and wanting something that much. Coincidentally, the object of my desire was also dirt bike. Go figure. In any case, I did not laugh. I just said "Hmm." As I savored his state, I asked, "Where do you feel that in your body?"
There was a long pause and I wondered if he would answer such an odd question, admittedly a left turn from the trajectory of his yearning. But he did. "In my solar plexus and chest," he said, with a definiteness that surprised me. "What color is it?" I asked, hoping I wasn't pushing my luck. "It's like a kaleidoscope," he said. "Red, yellow, green, blue, It just keeps changing."
"How does it feel to want something so much?" I asked.
"Like I said, it hurts," he said. "But it also feels kind of good."
"Can you just be there with that feeling?" I asked, but that was the limit. "Come on, Dad! I just want a dirt bike," he said. "Okay," I answered, "we'll talk about it."
I thought about the question for a few days and when the time was right I asked him if he still wanted a dirt bike. "Yes!" "All right," I said, "here are the conditions," and I gave him three. First he should take a dirt bike-riding class; second, he must earn the money needed to buy a dirt bike himself; and third, to ensure he wouldn't neglect his pedaling skills, he should ride his bicycle all the way from our home outside New Paltz to the top of Skytop.
He received the requirements soberly, and then protested that he would never be able to ride his bike that far or make that much money. I assured him that he would at some point be able to ride his bike up the 12 miles of carriage trails past the Mohonk Mountain House to Skytop, and he could, if he wanted to, find a way to make the money.
The next day as we walked along our street a neighbor called out to us and asked the boy if he wanted a job walking her dog. Thus began his career walking a huge, droll, drooling, lovable Bullmastiff named Big Marie. The dog was at least twice his weight and the boy joked without too much exaggeration that he needed a wheelbarrow to carry her poops back to the garbage pail.
For a few months the boy walked Big Marie in heat and cold and every kind of weather, like a postman. He picked up her massive poops, and took good care of the dog. She was mild mannered, but would express understated enthusiasm with a few tail wags whenever he arrived to walk with her. Big Marie even cooperated when he trained her to pull him around on his skateboard.
Come springtime we travelled to a dirt bike school, and the boy spent the day learning to drive the machine. Later, he made his first attempt at the long uphill bike ride but became dispirited when we got to the base of a series of steep ascents. We tried again a few weeks later and eventually we sat together, victorious, at the top of the Mohonk tower, from which it is said one can see seven states. (I have never been sure if this referred to geography or modes of consciousness).
The boy had completed the tasks after several months of trying. I asked him how he felt. His answer was a single word.
For me, this was a clue to the entry point for the elusive state of patience. It requires sacrifice, and work, and letting go. To achieve true patience requires an aim that is available in any moment, that provides a point of engagement, and that allows one to be at peace in the task.
So often I find myself inwardly drumming my fingers, waiting for some event to conclude, already half-departed. Occasionally I wake up in the midst of these frustrating moments and see that this is my life and I have no other life, neither future nor past. I see that there is nowhere to go but where I am and I gather myself to be patiently present.
In this way presence becomes both the goal and the means. Regardless of what is taking place I have an obligation in the name of presence to be present.