by Joan Borysenko, Ph.D.
Busy people who pay attention to the many cues for success that life offers...
stay on track. Their ability to focus makes them mindful of the world around them. This quality, which is sometimes known as patience, opens up a whole new universe of
joy, peace, and possibility.
“James” was a friend of mine who died of AIDS in the late 1980s. He was a master of the art of patience. Before the
advent of the new drug cocktails that can greatly prolong life, James was classified as a “long survivor.” He had lived for seven
or eight years with HIV, most of them symptom free. In that time, he had witnessed the deaths of many good friends. AIDS
was truly like a plague back in those days, so his good health was a special blessing. He never took it for granted, and that
made life sweet.
James was a grateful person, but beyond that, he was patient. One day I was watering his plants. Having a green thumb,
this was a very pleasant task as I got to know each one individually. I turned some of them toward the light and wiped off their
leaves. One of the plants was a large Christmas cactus, and most of the blooms were spent. As they fade, first the blossoms
close, and then they hang there, all limp and droopy. After a few days, they get as dry as ancient rice paper and finally fall off. If
you have a large Christmas cactus, like James did, the falling blossoms make a big mess. Thinking I’d spare him the effort of
crawling around on his hands and knees and picking up the debris, I began to pinch off the dying blooms.
James put his hand gently on my arm. “Joanie,” he said, “everything has a life and a destiny. People, trees, plants, clothes,
even stones. And the cycle isn’t done for these flowers yet. I know they’re kind of ratty looking and that they’ve passed their
peak. But please, let them finish life on their own timetable. I’m happy to pick them up off the floor.”
I watched the blooms fall over the next few days. Indeed, there was a special beauty in their final transformation from
living tissue to fragile, papery phantoms. There was a profound rightness about the moment when they let go and fluttered
down. I picked up the papery husks and lay them outside under a hedge, where they could go back to the earth again. Instead
of viewing the dying blossoms as a mess-in-the-making, James had helped me see more deeply and patiently into their essence.
I am not a generally patient person. It’s a practice that takes constant awareness. Even after James’s lesson in letting life
unfold through its full cycle, sometimes I still want to pull off the dead blooms, rush people in conversation, curse at the traffic,
and hurry through a fine meal.
I once heard patience defined as “impatience stretched to its limit.” The implication was that most people have no idea
what patience really is. In the name of patience, we often hold back like a pit bull straining against its leash. We are not present
at all—just trying to look pleasant while our blood boils. Inside, we’re wishing that the traffic would clear, that our child would
go to bed, or that our colleague would shut up already. A lot of energy is used up in the name of this false patience.
Real patience requires a gentle willingness to let life unfold at its own pace. This willingness, in turn, requires mindfulness. If
I’m present to the fading blossoms as they are, there’s a subtle beauty in their dying that is no less engaging than in their
opening. The beauty is not so much in the flower as in the relationship to it. That which we have truly known and loved in all its
phases is more precious still as it fades away. The same was true of James. He was as beautiful in his dying as he was at the
height of his power. In the years since his death, I have acquired three large Christmas cactuses. When their brief and prolific
blooming comes to an end, I think of James and send him a blessing.
Patience is an opportunity to love deeply, and to wring the last drop of juice out of life. This week, notice the times that
you are impatient. What’s the hurry? Think about what you will lose by rushing the blossom in its leave-taking, or rushing your
loved one in conversation. What will you gain by leaping out of the tub two minutes faster, rather than savoring the way your
muscles start to relax? Identify one area where you tend to lose patience, and try giving it full, mindful attention.
Patience is peace. Learning to be patient is a continual practice that takes years to ripen. Let it unfold, day by day, and be
gentle and with yourself in the learning.
from the new book, Inner Peace for Busy People: Simple Strategies for TransformingYour
Life, by Joan Borysenko. Hayhouse, 2001.
Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., has a powerfully clear
personal vision- to bring science, medicine,
psychology and spirituality together in the service of
healing. Her brilliance as a scientist, clinician and
teacher have placed her on the leading edge of the
mind-body revolution, and she has become a
world-renowned spokesperson for this new approach to
health, sharing her pioneering work with a gentle
graciousness, enthusiasm and humility.
Trained as both a medical
scientist and a psychologist, Dr. Borysenko has gone
beyond her traditional academic training and developed
depth and breadth in a number of fields including
behavioral medicine, stress and well-being,
psychoneuroimmunology, women's health, creativity and
the great spiritual traditions of the world. She
completed her doctorate in medical sciences at the
Harvard Medical School where she also completed three
post-doctoral fellowships in experimental pathology,
behavioral medicine and psychoneuroimmunology and
where she was instructor in medicine until 1988.
Also a licensed psychologist,
Dr. Borysenko was co-founder and former Director of
the Mind-Body clinical programs at two Harvard Medical
School teaching hospitals, now merged as the Beth
Israel/Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. These
programs were the foundation for her 1987 classic New
York Times bestseller Minding the Body, Mending the
Dr. Borysenko is a spell-binding
lecturer and workshop leader who blends science,
psychology and spirituality in a unique and powerful
way. Her presentations are full of humor and personal
anecdotes as well as the latest scientific research
and practical exercises for both personal and
professional growth. Her nine books are a complete
library of healing, combining scholarly wisdom with
the language of the heart, and bringing body and soul
together with unprecedented clarity and
Dr. Borysenko's work has
appeared in numerous scientific journals and has been
featured in many popular magazines and newspapers. She
is well known for her ability to bridge diverse
disciplines and open up new lines of communication. A
widely sought expert for the media, she has appeared
on Oprah, Sally Jesse Raphael, Sonya Live, Geraldo,
Hour Magazine and Good Morning America among many
other appearances both on commercial and public
television. Her work has been featured in U.S. News
and World Report, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today,
Reader's Digest, Success, Bottom Line, The Leifer
Report, American Health, Shape, Glamour, Vogue, Ladies
Home Journal, Living Fit, Success, Yoga Journal, New
Age Journal, and many other magazines and newspapers.