“To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping.”
– Chinese Proverb
THE CLASSROOM: The Andes outside of Baños, Ecuador—The poop-filled diaper flew out the window of the bus and down the side of the mountain. I felt sorry for the Ecuadorian farmer who might have been working the slopes below. He would be in for an unpleasant surprise if he looked up. There’s nothing quite like a dirty diaper in the face to ruin a perfectly good day.
My friend Janele and I were a few hours into the torturous bus ride out of the mountains from Baños to Guayaquil, in Ecuador.
With the poopy diaper safely—if not appropriately—disposed of, the mother for some reason closed the bus window. The temperature inside the bus grew increasingly unbearable. Sweating profusely in my cramped seat at the back of the bus I had a good view of the rest of the passengers and could watch how the heat and motion of the bus affected each of them. Before we reached our destination I would bear witness to not one, not two, but three children throwing up.
On one occasion I watched a little girl sway unsteadily in the aisle, her eyes half-closed as the nausea built. She tugged at her father’s shirt. He was seated next to her and immediately recognized the imminence of his daughter’s purging. Thinking fast, the father grabbed a plastic grocery bag from under his seat and shoved his daughter’s head into it. Unfortunately, the father failed to realize the bag was full of holes. Vomit poured through the bag like a sieve and onto the man’s shoes.
We finally made it to our destination many, many hours later. The bus stunk of poop, vomit and body odour. I was exhausted and nauseous. But we made it.
THE LESSON: Buddhism teaches that nothing in this world is permanent or fixed. This includes the suffering and hard times we go through from time to time. Embracing this idea is critical to overcoming whatever challenges life throws our way. To be sure, there are plenty of bumps in the road (especially if that road is a narrow, winding road through the Andes). But smoother roads may be just around that next bend and eventually the smell of poop and vomit will fade from your nostrils.
The problem is we live in a very impatient society. In our fast-paced world we demand instant gratification and lose our cool when life doesn’t run at the speed we expect. Fast food, high-speed internet, digital photos, fast cars, Blackberrys, 24-hour grocery stores—we have become so accustomed to immediacy that we are ill-equipped to cope with any sort of waiting or delay without getting angry and frustrated. We need to learn to slow down, to be more patient because there will be times when we’re in for a long haul and we need to be equipped to handle them.
The bus from Baños helped me realize that. So did my experience with chemotherapy to treat my leukemia and the long road to recovery after my bone marrow transplant. There were certainly many times when I would get frustrated with how long treatment was taking and how endless the road ahead of me seemed. But like the bus from Baños, sometimes there is nothing to be done but settle in for the ride.
THE HOMEWORK: In addition to recognizing the temporary nature of suffering, it also helps to come prepared when confronted with patience-testing situations. Whether you’re in a doctor’s waiting room or on a bus in the Andes, find ways to distract yourself. Arm yourself with books, movies, and crossword puzzles; bring work with you to catch up on or find a hobby that you can do when you’re just sitting around like crocheting, whittling, or origami. And always bring a spare plastic bag with you—without holes—just in case.
Funny stories. Good advice. Josh Martin is author of the book “Simple(ton) Living: Lessons in balance from life’s absurd moments.” Click here to learn more and to purchase a copy.