Patience - The Challenging "Popular" Virtue
Updated: Apr 4, 2020
While of course there are numerous virtues for human beings to aspire to embody, the one we seem to hear most often about is Patience.
Yet as we all know, traveling with our friend Patience as a constant companion is one of the most challenging relationships to get comfortable with – especially for humans living in developed, more affluent countries like the US who have come to expect instant gratification for any desire they hold, or a drink or a pill to magically take away their suffering. Concurrently, I have observed that so many people have become control freaks regarding everything that occurs in their lives, especially if they have structured tight schedules to wrap their daily existence around, and if one piece falls out of place, it's as if the entire stack of dominoes they built could crash as well. So many have short fuses regarding even little things like a traffic jam or a sink getting plugged up while cooking for a dinner party that cause them to lose it, simply because Life isn't going the way they want it to. It's not surprising that many people turn to alcohol and drugs to help them wind down – but it's a path of self-destruction.
Bringing the ally of patience into our conscious intention to live with eyes-wide-open awareness every day isn't merely about calming down and chilling out during stressful situations, although that too is obviously important. But it's not about suppressing the quality of impatience, or exuding some faux appearance of surface calm while you are seething just below, as it will burst forth again and again until you face and own that which is inside of you that prompts such a strong response, and those triggers are purposefully transcended. When fully embraced, patience is the means to move away from the wildfire of angry reactive emotions that can escalate so quickly and prompt becoming truly out of control to own us. Patience grants us greater ease, and actually makes us feel happier than when we are struggling to make life conform to our perceived needs and rigid timelines.
Jaw-clenched anger destroys the ability of the person intoxicated by its fog to engage in clear discrimination and discernment between the real and the illusory, and between "right" and "wrong". Even a momentary flash of deep rage can wipe away the good energy we received from previous mindfully-productive actions. If we dwell in a constant flow of angry states as a reaction to Life circumstances, there's no space within the heart and mind for compassion and loving-kindness toward other human beings - regardless of the actions they undertake we feel are harmful or even merely annoying - to take hold. When we're filled with rage, there is no room for peace to be present, and we devolve in terms of our evolutional maturity and intelligence. If we're pissed off most of the time, there's no room for empathy to be extended toward our fellow imperfect human beings whose thoughts, choices, actions and behaviors trigger us.
Someone who is aware and attentive of their current emotional state (and its effects) can employ patience in any situation where seething anger is a tempting reaction - and it can never be a bad choice. Patience keeps us moving on our evolutionary journey, especially when we are bravely finding our way through a particularly tough chunk of inner work and dealing with every speck of resistance that arises. The same goes for when we're just minding our own business and thinking we're doing pretty well, thank you very much – and bang! a huge lesson makes us fall on our knees. Why? Because patience grants us the humility to acknowledge we still have work to do, and that it's OK - especially when we have brought our sense of humor along with us. With patience, we are better equipped to face the Truth about ourselves without fear. Patience is also a wonderful companion for when we feel we hit a plateau on the journey and it feels like not much is happening (yet we know for sure we aren't anywhere near "enlightened"!) as it keeps us open to returning to the place of beginner's heart and mind. Patience gives us a never-ending sense of innocent, non-jaded adventure, which brings us back to revisit the books, the audio lectures, the teachers and even the movies and music that moved us in the past, and to comprehend those same materials in a different way, simply because we are in a different place than we were before. By witnessing how much we have grown, we develop even more patience for the journey itself, because we're able to reflect upon our own process of growth and transformation, and at the same time not become all neurotic and worried about getting anywhere we think we're supposed to be by now. Patience puts us right smack in the middle of the present moment, and helps us genuinely appreciate how that feels.
One of the juiciest things about patience is the opportunity it grants to us when we're face to face with any person or situation that tests it, as these people and scenarios are tremendous gifts to anyone choosing a life framed by Ethical Intelligence. Why? If there weren't people who stirred up our anger and frustration, no dicey or stressful circumstances, no suffering at all, it would be impossible to develop patience, and therefore also be impossible to grow. In Pema Chödrön's translation and discussion of the Buddhist sage Shantideva's Bodhicharyavatara called No Time to Lose, she comments about living with the virtue of patience when dealing with "troublemakers" who cross our path intending to mess with us or cause us harm, and that they're worthy of our gratitude – even if we can give all kinds of "good" reasons we feel they aren't.
"We may protest cultivating patience toward those with malicious intentions. But Shantideva responds with this clever analogy: when a doctor helps us, it may be painful, but we don't get angry because we know the pain will benefit us in the end. Couldn't we take this same attitude toward the pain caused by troublemakers? They, too, benefit us by giving us the opportunity to practice patience. If they had intentionally set our to help us, like a doctor, we wouldn't have this chance to heal our anger."
The same applies to those "troublemakers" who have no calculated intention to make our lives miserable – but their personalities, unpleasant attitude, indifference, burn-out, insensitivity, or just plain ignorance makes them people who can push our patience to the limit – and beyond - if we allow them to. Once we gain a broader understanding of the impact of the energy we put out, if we whack back at any of the troublemakers in our lives with volatile impatience, we are doing ourselves a disservice, and we'll keep on having these encounters until we transcend their upsetting effect upon us. If we lose it in situations wherein we have no control, reacting with anger does not make us feel better. Responding with patience and compassionate, assertive calm toward all parties involved will not only yield better results personally, but also energetically. The waitress that forgets your side order of potatoes maybe because something awful is going on in her family life and she just can't morph into a robot when she arrives at work is worthy of your compassion and patience. So is the customer service agent who is in the tough, often underpaid position of being the frontline person who constantly gets to deal with everyone's issues with the company or one of its products (and many of those customers are very abusive), and who has little power to make things the way you'd like them to be.
When someone who is angry strikes at us with venom-filled words, it is not appropriate to become angry at the words themselves that cause us pain. It isn't even honorable from both an Emotionally Intelligent or Ethically Intelligent perspective to become enraged with the person, because his or her anger and the causes for his or her anger (rooted in a whole number of possible emotions, predominantly some flavor of pain or fear, or a combination of both) is what moved him or her to verbally attack you. The energy cycle of cause and effect suggests that no one acts independently without some deep internal conditioning (and therefore, triggering) factors.
If one believes, like our friends the Tibetan Buddhists do, that humans are at the mercy of their untamed, disturbing emotions, patience seems to be a wise response to our suffering – all of our suffering. Shantideva offers that both the giver of the angry energy and the receiver of it are equally responsible for the receiver's pain. We can't stop others from speaking with anger, but we can cultivate more patience that will help us not get all plugged in and whack back with rage ourselves. This can also aid us in calmly moving out and away from the attacker's energy. Shantideva also adds that we don't need to beat ourselves up for when we act without patience toward another, but acknowledge it and keep moving forward. After all, he claims, we are human, and therefore, still vulnerable until we solidify a more patient frame of mind in all encounters and scenarios.
Verse 15 of the Tai Te Ching contains two self-reflection questions that are good to ask ourselves regularly:
“Do you have the patience to wait Till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving Till the right action arises by itself?” - Lao Tzu
Bottom line: be patient with becoming patient – but don't be lazy either!
Patience allows for you to get out of the way and to allow for serendipitous timing, providence, humility, purity, wonder and wisdom to fill in the blanks when you just let go of trying to manically control and "manifest" every freaking thing you think you want, when you want it. Patience allows you to just breathe.
Patience gets you off your "how Life is supposed to be according to my vision of it" high horse. My fervent suggestion is to become more conscious aware of the degree of patience that exists in your approach to daily life, and work to increase it. When you find yourself spinning into anger over situations and people who trigger you to lose your calm state of heart and mind, stop for a moment, breathe deeply, and re-mind yourself that your friend Patience is always standing at the ready to bring you back to a place of inner balance, loving-kindness, empathy and compassion.
© 2020 Suzanne Matthiessen, innerevolution media. All rights reserved.