Patience is another of the attitudinal foundations of mindfulness that prepares the mind-heart for insight, clarity and peace. Growing this natural capacity in ourselves will reduce our stress or suffering and inevitably also the stress and suffering of others – being in the presence of another’s patience is a true blessing isn’t it? When we grow patience we also grow acceptance, gentleness, compassion, allowing, equanimity, softening, surrendering, tolerance and forgiving. These qualities are supportive of inner peace and harmony in relationship with the world around us.
“in patience lies wisdom, knowing that what will come next will be determined in large measure by how we are now. This is helpful to keep in mind when we get impatient in our meditation practice, or when we get frustrated, impatient, and angry in our lives” (Jon Kabat-Zinn Wherever You Go There You Are)
Patience is an essential material for building the inner refuge or inner resilience that shelters us through all the different seasons of our lives. With patience we recognise for a start that there are seasons, that things have a way of unfolding, and often not according to our plans. We all get really uptight about that sometimes, and then eventually, with awareness, we recognise when we’re pushing or pulling too much and when patience serves us best. Our mindful awareness is then the ultimate shelter, the solid ground on which we can stand in any storm. And as Jon Kabat-Zinn reflects “if you cultivate patience you almost can’t help cultivating mindfulness”. Watch his 2 min talk on this here
Patience is a capacity to rest our heart on whatever is present. The late Cindy Cooper, a wonderful mindfulness teacher and trainer who inspired so many of us would remind us that waiting is an opportunity to practice, is a practice itself. It involves noticing that when we’re waiting it’s a subtle aggression against the moment we’re having – this one isn’t good enough, I’m waiting for the next one. Like the nomads in the cartoon we tend to focus a lot on what we want to happen rather than what is happening. Impatience is like being in a battle with the life that’s here, and with ourselves too of course. “What’s next?’ is an expression of insufficiency, and so reinforces the sense of not having enough. In the Buddha’s teachings, the Pali (the ancient language of the scriptures of Theravada Buddhism) word for suffering ‘dukkha’ is also often translated as ‘dissatisfaction’. Impatience is dissatisfaction, and a kind of suffering. When I feel impatient it really is very uncomfortable – I tense, my stomach constricts, my heart races and so do my thoughts. Patience on the other hand is a relief, the muscles soften, the brow and jaw relax. You can’t force patience though, because of course making it a should just adds more tension. And the first place to practice patience is with our impatience! Then, what we learn through close observation and practice, is how much kinder to ourselves patience is. Patience is compassion in action. Patience is golden because it’s just kinder – kinder to ourselves, to others, to the life that’s showing up right now.
“The ultimate perfection of patience does not come from endurance or a re-evaluation of a situation. Rather it comes from the absence of our habitual, automatic triggers and reactive hooks to the challenges of life. Fully mature, patience is effortless. It is not a doing at all.” Gil Fronsdal
Living requires infinite patience. And it’s not easy. We should not imagine that those who have chosen to live dedicated to meditation and mindful living transcend the effort of growing patience. On the contrary, according to Ajahn Chah (a very influential teacher in the Thai Forest Tradition of Buddhism) at least, monastic life is all about growing patience “Being a monk is knowing about letting go and being unable to do so 90% of the time”! (from Crossing the Floods, Ajahn Sucitto). So patience is the path itself, and along this path deep peace, forgiveness and joy grow too. The freedom of allowing things to be as they are, in this moment, is revealed.
How do we practice patience? We are all growing and practising patience all the time. What are you practising patience with now, and how does it feel? In meditation we practice patience as perseverance. We recognise that making time regularly to meditate, without trying to get anywhere, is the practice. In our relationship with others we practice patience in terms of our reactivity, pausing when we can before taking action. It expresses itself as a carefulness, being full of care – for ourselves as well as others. And as we look more closely at life unfolding moment by moment we might also perceive that actually we are never stuck anyway, things are always moving and changing, nothing is permanent. The path through trouble is always made one step at a time, one breath at a time, one day at a time…and so with patience we live everything, as Rilke encourages us to in the famous poem below.
Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart
and try to love the questions themselves …
Don’t search for the answers,
which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then, someday far in the future,
you will gradually, without even noticing it,
live your way into the answer.