Practice of the Week
“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” (A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh)See also the Practice of the Week: Live in Patience
Text below adapted from Rick Hanson, Just One Thing.
It's fine to want things to happen in a proper and timely way. But what if you need to hang in there for several years in your current job before you can move on to a better one, or you're stuck on hold listening to elevator music, going to the mailbox each day for a long-awaited letter, or trying to get a squirming toddler into a car seat? Now what?
Patience means handling delay, difficulty, or discomfort without getting aggravated. Circumstances are what they are, but patience protects you from their impact like a shock absorber.
In contrast, impatience interprets circumstances as you being hindered or mistreated, so you feel frustrated, let down, or annoyed. Then insistence comes in: "This must change!" But by definition you can't fulfill that commandment (otherwise, there'd be nothing to get impatient about). Impatience combines all three ingredients of toxic stress: unpleasant experiences, pressure or urgency, and lack of control.
Impatience with others contains implicit criticism and irritation—and people want to get away from both of these. Just recall how you feel when someone is impatient with you. Or consider how others react when you are impatient with them.
Patience may seem like a superficial virtue, but actu¬ally it embodies a deep insight into the nature of things: they're intertwining, messy, imperfectible, and usually not about you. Patience also contains a wonderful teaching about desire: wish for something, sure, but be at peace when you can't have it. Patience knows you can't make the river flow any faster.
For an overview, reflect on these questions in your journal:
- What does patience feel like? Impatience?
- How do you feel about someone who's really patient? And about someone who's really impatient?
- What makes you impatient?
- What helps you stay patient?
In challenging situations:
- Try to step back from thoughts that make you impatient, such as righteousness, superiority, or insistence. Remember that standards differ among persons and cultures. Remind yourself that there is (usually) nothing truly urgent.
- Be aware of any body sensations or emotions triggered by delay or frustration—and see if you can tolerate them without reacting with impa¬tience. Relax your body, come into the present moment, and open to feeling that you are basi¬cally all right right now.
- Rather than feeling that you are "wasting" time, find things that are rewarding in situations that try your patience; for example, look around and find something beautiful. Pay attention to your breath while relaxing your body, and wish others well. Similarly, rather than viewing yourself as "waiting in" situations, explore the sense of "being in" them. Enjoy the time being.
- Try to have compassion for others who seem to be in the way or taking too long. For example, a pet peeve of mine is people who stand in the middle of public doorways, but lately I've been realizing they have no idea they're blocking others.
- Pick a conversation -- or even a relationship altogether -- and deliberately bring more patience to it. You could react more slowly and thoughtfully (and never interrupt), let the other person have more time to talk, and allow minor issues to slide by.
- Play with routine situations -- such as a meal -- and take a few extra seconds or minutes before starting, in order to strengthen your patience muscles.
- Offer patience as a gift -- to others, dealing with their own issues, and to yourself, wanting true happiness. Life is like a vast landscape with both soft grass and sharp thorns; impatience rails at the thorns; patience puts on a pair of shoes.
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