This entry is a meditation on patience. As dictionary.com defines patience it seems to me that from these definitions patience is about a generous quality of mind and spirit and it that can be cultivated. At its heart, patience is an application of love. Lets take apart the first definition. It seems to me that with patience there is a transparency of spirit. The little “me” that gets wrapped up in thinking that it’s been jilted by the circumstances is minimized or non existent. Patience comes from the vastness of being. The “power” of misfortune does not apply and even though something could be construed by others as provoking or painful or annoying, the patient soul meets these situations with equanimity. In this first definition the person who is experiencing misfortunes and pain could easily get annoyed or frustrated by the externals that are causing the pain and misfortune but does not. In fact, with pure patience the circumstances simply are. They are not unfortunate and not psychologically painful. With real patience is a tacit if not explicit acknowledgment that the situation and the observer are merged. It is an act of love. It is timeless and does not, as the saying goes, run out.
A common phrase when it comes to patience is “ I am running out of patience” as if it came in some limited supply, but really patience is endless. What keeps it from being endless for us is our running away from the current moment. What keeps it from being endless is a story we frighten ourselves with about the future. We either want the moment to be different than it is or we are worried about something in the future. Wanting things to be different than they are, as I have said before in this blog, and as others have said before me, is the root of suffering. Why are we worried about in the future? Can we know for sure that our nightmare of how things will turn out actually will? Why are we hurtling towards the future? What is wrong with this moment we are in? We can choose patience again and again and again in any situation. It’s like we are patience; we are timeless and eternal and capable of letting life unfold in each moment. But when we are impatient we are once again attempting to exert control over life. We are trying to steer things in a direction it is not yet or maybe never going. Impatience is a form of suffering because it is a denial of our true timeless nature.
When do you become impatient? What circumstances draw you out of presence and into your small self ? For me, impatience is the first trigger for larger, deeper emotions like frustration, or anger. Most of the time I can watch myself have an impatient reaction without being the reaction. What do I mean by that? I mean that I am able to see the impatience in me without necessarily responding to my circumstance from the place of impatience. I am able to pause and respond when the impatience has, like any other emotion, passed through me. Sometimes however, I become impatient and a story about my lack of time or my irritation grows, rather than quickly passing through me. At times like these, I suffer.
I became very impatient with my child the other day when I was trying to leave for work. I had asked him to draw a card for his grandfather’s birthday and he kept getting frustrated that he could not do it “perfectly”. After a lot of failed attempts and the clock ticking away, I became more and more curt with him. My tone of voice became more pointed and harsh. Finally, I hurried him into the car. I was irritated that I was going to be late. Underneath my frustration, I did not realize until later, was a false story with a future that frightened me. Only now am I able to realize that I had been feeling inadequate at work and I was worried about my son’s perfectionism. At the time, my worry about work became more important than my son’s feelings. When I realized that I was still getting nowhere by carting him off to the car and that his hurt had only increased, I regained my composure. In some ways I surrendered to the situation. I was going to be late but I could be late with a card for Grandpa or I could be late without one. I apologized to my little one and we went back into the house to give him a chance to finish the card. This time he finished it. He also reminded me of what forgiveness is all about. When we went back to the car, I was again apologizing for getting so frustrated with him, he told me not to worry, that I was a great Dad, that he still loved me, and that it was ok -- I had not done anything wrong. He is a wise, loving and precious little soul.
In this story I let my worry take over my mind. I spiraled into a space where I was not able to see how I was hurting my son’s feelings. The initial patience with which I was handling the situation “ran out” but the moment one’s patience runs out is the very moment when we have abandoned reality for an imagined future or past. Could I really know if I was going to be in trouble if I was a few minutes late? Is it possible that as I got more frustrated with the situation I affected his ability to complete the card? If I took a birds’ eye view of the situation what was truly important to me? This story demonstrates how impatience obscures our vision, clarity and compassion.
But we operate in the real world where time is important. There are deadlines to be met, places we need to be, things that must get done.
It is true that to operate in the world, things need to get accomplished. Sometimes at one level one really does need to be at work at a certain time and there is little flexibility. Sometimes we have deadlines. We need to accomplish. We could not survive otherwise. Ultimately though, we can choose to meet that deadline without an accompanying worrisome story about how the future will turn out. It is important to remember that how we accomplish something is at least as important as what we accomplish or ultimately even if, we accomplish. If we do something with pent up frustration, irritation or anger, the product itself is “poisoned” to some degree. We can aim to approach anything we do with clarity and acceptance. Does it really “help us” to be frustrated, irritated or angry about the situation? The situation simply is. It is our story that makes a problem out of it. When my son was taking a long time to draw the card for Grandpa – it was simply that – a child taking a while to do a card for his Grandfather. My mind added a frightening story about what that would mean. My mind created the frustration. But my frustration did not contribute to making the situation better. It only added a layer of suffering for both of us. It in fact, surely made things worse.
So how do you get rid of the impatience or frustration?
You don’t. Why would you? They are a part of your experience. Why would you want to rid yourself of experience? Love does not exclude. It is all inclusive and moves toward that which feels left out. What you can do is simply notice the impatience. What you can do is be with the impatience? What is the impatience trying to tell you? Develop a curiosity about the story that is underneath the impatience. What need is not being met? Why does the situation feel so important? Can you approach that place that needs something to happen quickly or that is getting frustrated with tenderness? Know that you are bigger than the emotion that is passing. Nothing that can be identified is you. You are vast and cannot be contained.
Patience is a quality of love. It stands outside time even though it seems like it is exclusively about time. It can be chosen again and again and again by being in the moment. Impatience tells you to run after the next moment because it will be better than this one but that is a falsehood that will lead to a life unfulfilled. This is it. This is all you will ever have. Catch impatience in yourself and trace it back to the place where you are settling for a limited self. Know that you are endless. You are love and love is not bound by time or anything. Each time you are impatient let it show you where you are still attached and feeling small. Let it show you where you are still opaque; clinging to an idea of how things should be. Then let go, surrender to what is and see what happens.