In our fast paced consumer driven world, the attitude of patience seems to have become a forgotten art, associated with a lack of drive, a passiveness, weak and pedestrian. Patience rarely gets a look in when put next to the usual positive attributes such as driven, ambitious and competitive but I believe patience deserves to be at the top. It’s a crucial skill, one that can allow us to live our lives with more contentment and happiness.
Patience runs through my practice of mindfulness like a thread, holding it all together, keeping it all in check. When I first started practicing mindfulness, patience was far from my mind. I wanted change, I desperately wanted to find happiness but as my practice developed, an underlying foundation of patience started to be built. The striving, the wanting, all started to move to one side, allowing something much more vital to come to the fore. That simply is life as it is, right here, right now.
In developing patience, it helps to become intimate with impatience and to really feel what impatience is. So the next time, you are stuck in a traffic jam, or are behind somebody in the checkout queue who insists on telling the cashier their life story, just get intimate with the feeling of impatience, you don’t need to react, just feel it, what does it feel like in your body, just pause for a moment, experience it in your body. For me, it feels like a knot in my belly. When we can come out of the head and into the body like this, we can start to develop this underlying foundation of patience into our lives and strangely enough our relationship to these impatient events start to change. We can even start to welcome those moments when we can just pause and become intimate with impatience.
Patience and meditation
When I first started to meditate, I would get about ten minutes in and start to wonder when it would finish so I could get on with the rest of the day. I am sure I am not on my own in this, these thoughts happen to most of us at some point, it makes for a great patience practice ground. When it happens, again don’t react, don’t move, hold fast, breathe and feel it in the body, where is it, belly?, chest? what does it feel like, sharp? soft?, does it fade away when you put your attention to it? or does it become stronger. You don’t need to change it, or react, just simply let it be what it is. The more we can sit with this in meditation, the stronger the skill of patience will become in the rest of our lives.
But why do I need to be patient?
A few weeks back, I took a trip to London and spent a day in the British Museum. It was extremely busy and the most popular exhibits were full. I decided to go and have a look at the clocks and watches room. It was also very busy but I slowly made my way around the exhibits taking them all in. I was mesmerized by a fantastic, mechanical clock in the shape of a galleon. The detail on it was exquisite and I stopped and marvelled at it, taking in all its detail and features. I must have been looking at it for at least twenty minutes or so. Whilst I was looking at it, many people came by, looked at it for about a minute, took a photo and then moved on to do the same at the other exhibits. This is no criticism, I did the same at some other exhibits, but it got me to wondering how a life without patience, can mean we miss out on something so very special.
Now if I close my eyes, I can picture that galleon clock as clear as if I was stood in front of it, I can picture the miniature people on the deck, the cannons, the mechanics, it is vivid in my memory, I don’t need to see a picture of it. It is the same when we practice patients in our lives, we get to see and experience our lives in vivid detail. We get to see the things we may have missed if we are impatient to move on to the next thing, and the next and so on. Being patient also brings with it a sense of calm, helping us to be more grounded and present and to allow us to see things as they really are, true and whole. Allowing things to unfold in their own time creates space, which in turn brings happiness and a feeling of being content with where you are right now.
How to cultivate a foundation of patience.
- Pause. Pausing allows us to better evaluate the situation and our intentions. Look out for those moments when you feel impatient, in a queue, in meditation, in wanting the next thing etc.. Use those moments to strengthen your patience skills.
- Feel. No need to respond reactively to impatience, feel it in the body, what does it feel like, is it sharp, or soft. Where do you feel it in the body, chest, belly etc. Is your brow furrowed, any tension in the body, just feel it.
- Breathe. Connect with your breath, the in and out, no need to regulate it or change it, feel the cooler air coming into the nostrils, down in to the lungs, the rise of the belly, then feel the warmer air going back out.
- Reconnect. Come back to reality of the moment, how would you respond now? can you be patient? can you change the situation? The little pause gives a clarity to the moment allowing us to respond much more wisely.
The more we can practice patience, the more natural it becomes. Over time we can come to see that patience isn’t weak or passive. In fact it can allow us to make some wise and beneficial decisions and can allow us to create a life of happiness, contentment and kindness to ourselves and to others.