Our New World: the Fruit of Patience
'Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet’
In 2002 I was in Mexico teaching on a Latin American leadership programme surreally held in an exquisite Japanese palace. I was new to leadership training at London Business School and also to the corporate world and this was my big chance to prove myself. I arrived very task focussed and impatient to hit the ground running, oblivious to the numinous beauty of this palatial oasis. I was also in danger of alienating everyone around me. There had been a hiccup with the training materials being held at customs and in my tight, anxious mindset, I was feeling judgmental and out of sync with this new world,
Then one of my group looked me in the eye, smiled and quoted a proverb his Argentinian father had taught him: ‘La paciencia es amara, pero la fruta de la paciencia tiene el sabor más dulce!’. ‘Patience is bitter, but the fruit of patience has the sweetest taste!’
It stopped me in my tracks. I paused and allowed myself to breathe, creating that precious space between external stimulus and how we choose to respond. * (see Victor Frankl’s quote below) Finally, finally I had landed! I regained perspective: I was in the most extraordinary place, thousands of miles away from my old world, doing work I was passionate about and with fascinating and talented people. How graceless I had been trying to force what was out of my control, and how easily creative solutions flowed once I shifted my energy and mindset.
I have never forgotten my experience that week. It fundamentally changed me. That first evening we dined outside on the terrace looking out onto spectacular views of the volcanic landscape. Conversation gradually turned from the ‘safe’ corporate topics I’d expect at such dinners, to something very different. The group began to talk about the ancestral spirits connected to the volcanos and this opened up a sharing of mystical experiences and myths from their respective homelands. I was stunned. To me, this was women’s talk. As a woman I could share this language with women all over the world but back in 2002 most men didn’t talk…certainly not in the northern European culture I was from… so easily about such non-tangible concepts and experiences. I had already begun my research into intuitive intelligence but had been very cautious about bringing it into my leadership teaching. It had been acceptable in the psychotherapeutic world I had come from, but it was still dismissed in the corporate world and again, that anxious ‘good girl’ in me was eager to fit in and be accepted. And yet, here I was amongst people who bridged both worlds with such grace, intelligence and ease.
And so began my Alice through the looking glass trajectory into a new and extraordinary world where I began to let go of the confines of my old rigid mindsets and behaviours.
Then, in October 2011, I was in New York and my task was to write my first Post. I had hit a wall, had gone back into my ‘good girl’/Adapted Self’ and was stuck in my head, trapped in ruminative thinking and writing clever but meaningless words. In frustration, I went out to Central Park to clear my head and en route I bought a copy of The New York Times. In it was an article by Walter Isaacson: ‘The Genius of Jobs’:
‘So was Mr. Jobs smart? Not conventionally. Instead, he was a genius. That may seem like a silly word game, but in fact his success dramatizes an interesting distinction between intelligence and genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. They were sparked by intuition, not analytic rigor. Trained in Zen Buddhism, Mr. Jobs came to value experiential wisdom over empirical analysis. He didn’t study data or crunch numbers but like a pathfinder, he could sniff the winds and sense what lay ahead.’ The Genius of Jobs
Intuitive intelligence was no longer something to be talked about privately amongst women and suddenly it...and I… were becoming mainstream!
And now in 2021, in this new world we are all in, we have been forced to learn about patience and about opening up to new ways of thinking and being. In the May Perspectives Post I wrote:
‘Over the last 12 months, with the world turned upside down, I had become unconsciously stuck in flight/fight adrenal-overdrive mode and my breathing had become very shallow. As homo sapiens we are brilliantly designed, physiologically and psychologically, to respond fast to danger. It’s about pure survival and we do this by diverting all energy from where it’s not urgently needed and channelling it to react to the sabre-toothed tiger bearing down on us. This includes switching from our natural abdomen breathing to a shallow upper chest breathing, and it also includes conserving our emotional energy: pausing to figure out how we feel about the imminent threat is not wise when we’re about to be eaten up!
We are designed to be in fight/flight response for an intense sprint of energy. We are not built to withstand 14 months of this highly charged state with no respite. There are a lot of people now stuck in fight/flight adrenal-overload, manifesting in burnout, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and/or relationships breaking down. Concern around mental health is high. We need to stop being on full-on throttle. That doesn’t mean full-on resting/slump mode as the only other option. As with a car, it's about flexible gear-changing according to need and context.
One of the reasons for this intense response stuckness is that we are being urged, even forced, to learn new mindsets, behaviours, and skills to adapt fast to this new world. If we can change our attitude to new learning and experiences, then we can begin to ease our stress response: not everything unknown and new is a life-threatening sabre-toothed tiger!”
So, what is true patience and what is its correlation to intuitive intelligence?
Patience is at the core of Emotional Intelligence, EQ, that ability to delay immediate gratification for a bigger and greater vision. Patience means endurance: it has a potent… not a passive or fatalistic…energy to it and its purpose is to get ready for wise action. This is the discipline of ‘Detached Involvement’, separating what is crucial and what is just noise and knowing when to act.
Imagine you are a cat. You can be a big, magnificent lion or a small domestic tabby. Either way, you are crouching with your eyes fixed on your prey. The prey is your ‘personal vision’ and you are willing to wait as long as it takes. But it is not a passive waiting, it is an active waiting. Every fibre of your being is poised and ready for action: if you pounce too early, you’ll miss your target; if you get distracted by something else, you’ll also miss it. So you wait. Like the perfect apricot, ripening on the branch, timing is everything.
And this is where our intuitive intelligence comes in. We will only know through our intuition when the timing is perfect. Cats know through instinct, their visceral response, and of course this is essential for homo sapiens too, but we are talking about more complex decisions and our instinct is not enough. We need all our intelligences: our IQ, so we can think astutely and our EQ, so we are not overwhelmed by our feelings in the moment. But it is our Intuitive Intelligence that will tell us when to pounce!
Our intuitive intelligence is our inner voice, our greatest guide and it is the source of our imagination and hope. Creatives, entrepreneurs and change-agent leaders prize it above all else as the secret to their success.
And here’s the juicy fact about Intuitive Intelligence. It cannot be forced. It doesn’t come to us if we sit down and will it to emerge. That’s IQ thinking. As Walter Isaacson beautifully described Steve Jobs: ‘like a pathfinder, he could sniff the winds and sense what lay ahead’. This is an ephemeral entity, and we need to entice it to come to us.
And the best way for that to happen is to be in the right energetic place and mindset. Like my shift in Mexico from a tight, anxious energy to a receptive, flowing one that opened me up to a new world beyond anything I could have imagined.
We are now in a place of cautious hope and expectation. Many of us have experienced, through this pandemic, the challenging consequences of forcing timelines and we have learned the wisdom of timing and pacing. Already we are savouring precious moments that we used to take for granted but which we now embrace with joy and gratitude.
These 18 months of patience have been awfully bitter. May our fruit come soon, and my goodness, let it be sweet!
Hannah Elizabeth Greenwood
* Between stimulus and response there is a space. In the space is our power to choose. In our response lies our growth and freedom. Victor Frankl