Patience has been defined as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset”. Sounds simple? Well not when we realize we have been throwing tantrums since we were infants! With such a long withstanding pattern, how does one break out of this?
Let’s take a closer look at the nature of patience:
From a psychological perspective, impatience is mainly a person’s inability to withstand a certain irritating emotion. The less you can stand irritation and emotional pressure the more impatient you will become. Patience is studied as a “decision-making” problem, involving the choice of either a small reward in the short-term, or a more valuable reward in the long-term. Studies have shown that when given a choice, all animals (humans included) are inclined to favor the short-term rewards over long-term rewards. This is despite the often greater benefits associated with the long-term rewards.
What does this say about us? Well, one aspect this highlights is that even though we may rationally and logically know something as a “truth”, there is something very strong inside of us that overrides this – emotions like anger, irritability, shame, blame, discontent and so on. These emotions are so uncomfortable that we need them to go away as fast as possible, thus this need to act immediately arises in an attempt to dissipate these very raw, uncomfortable and negative feelings in the form of impatience.
Through experience we can begin to see a pattern emerging – this quality of impatience does not solve the actual issue but rather provides temporary relief of that moment until we get to the next moment. We can foresee then how many more moments will come our way riddled with feelings we want to get rid of. So I ask, do we get rid of these uncomfortable emotions or do we seek to understand them further by staying in them and exploring them deeper?
From a mindfulness perspective, patience is the ever-present alternative to the mind’s continual restlessness. In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn,
“Scratch the surface of impatience and what you will find lying beneath it, subtly or not so subtly, is anger. It’s the strong energy of not wanting things to be the way they are and blaming someone (often yourself) or something for it. From the perspective of patience, things happen because other things happen. Nothing is separate and isolated”.
Since the surface is anger, what then lies beneath it? This is different for everyone and it is only through self-exploration that clarity on this can arise.
Practical applications to cultivate clarity and patience:
So, why bother cultivating patience? Well, to put it simply, to understand ourselves and the world around us better. With patience, our relationship with ourselves and others improve. Here are some mental exercises to cultivate the quality of patience:
- Awareness: Realize those moments where you are uncomfortable. Notice where you are, who you are with, what your feeling, thinking and the tendency in yourself to become impatient. What action do you feel like taking in that moment? Approach yourself with curiosity and see what is actually happening in these moments inside of you. By focusing on what’s actually happening inside you, you begin to notice the dismay, not wanting what’s happening, the resistance.
- Reflection: What was your initial reaction to these uncomfortable feelings? What action did you take and why? What was said/done or not said/done by both yourself and others? What does this all mean about the layers of your feelings? Take your time with this and write it down. This will give you a chance to clarify and process.
- Acceptance: Without self-judgment and without trying to change anything, sit with your real thoughts and feelings and stay in this uncomfortable and authentic place. Give yourself the chance to experience pain and suffering till the point of acceptance. Suffering has its purpose and can point us to the inward direction of finding real solutions rather than temporary relief.
- Action: Now that you have explored the depth of impatience and have widened your perspective, ask yourself what possible actions are called for now and why? Make a decision from a more calm and grounded place where your emotions and thoughts have had a chance to integrate.
“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, Tao-te-Ching
Photo By: h.koppdelaney License: Creative Commons