Much of our time is spent in up in our heads, out of presence and on our way to the next thing. We are driving our cars and already thinking about our destination. We are engaged in a conversation with someone and thinking about what we are doing next. We have been conditioned to believe what comes next is more important that what is happening now.
Waiting is a part of life. The average person spends five years of his or her life waiting in lines*. We wait on the phone, wait through tv commercials, we wait at red lights, we wait at the doctor's office, etc. Animals wait for food, wait for predators to go away, wait for the seasons to change. Waiting is a part of life of all living beings. Yet, human beings have seemed to turn waiting into a major source of stress, almost a practiced art form.
I see waiting as an opportunity. Waiting can be a time to pause and meditate in the midst of a busy day. It can allow us the time to take stock of a situation, to see from within where we are at the moment. Waiting can be the fertile ground for practicing patience.
Before we explore how to practice patience, we need to explore impatience. Impatience is made worse by striving, hurrying, anger or irritation. When things are not going our way or if people get in the way of our perceived agendas, impatience rears its ugly head. But if we react to these situations with impatience, we are setting ourselves up for much frustration and more and more impatience. Ironically, impatience fuels more impatience. Think about how an experience of waiting that evokes impatience sets you up for more and more irritation throughout the day. Can you recall how impatience makes it much easier to become annoyed at things or how you tend to notice more and more annoying and irritating things after becoming impatient. Waiting is inevitable. Not getting our way is inevitable. However, we do have a choice to act with calm or with reactivity,
How can we practice patience then?
There are four ways we can come back to presence and welcome patience:
1 - Remain Calm
Often the best way to defuse impatience is to not engage. Focus on the breath, reconnect with the body. Practice the STOP technique to halt the habitual response of impatience, so that you can halt the cycle of impatience fueling itself.
2 - Ask yourself, "does it really matter?"
Is getting riled up and impatient over a long grocery store line really contribute to anything? Does it make the line shorter? Instead, we might use this time to reflect on our need to hurry, to examine how we use our time and whether we need to provide more breathing space in our life. We can use the wait in line to meditate, make it a worthwhile use of our time.
3 - Remember that, whatever is happening, no matter how challenging, "this too shall pass."
All things are impermanent, thoughts, emotions, sensations, situations all come and go. While there may be disappointment and difficulty now, eventually it will pass away. Avoid the black and white thinking of right and wrong, life is more complex than that. We often lose perspective when in the grip of difficulty, which means our ability to judge is often faulty. Also refrain from judging others, again, our perspective is limited, and judging only increases our impatience and anger.
4 - We can set the affirmation that in all experiences, even difficult ones, can be the catalyst to awakening.
We know that responding to a situation with irritation only begets more irritation, instead of getting upset, we can look to the underlying cause. Is my impatience due to just having too much on my plate? Am I frustrated because I am feeling acknowledged? Am I responding with irritation because I don't feel listened to? Turn a negative experience into an opportunity for greater insight and awareness.
It is important to remember that practicing patience is not passive. It is not simply giving in to whatever difficulty we are facing, instead it is an active slowing down, a resolve to staying present and aware. When we are able to open up to patience, we are gifted with the beauty and mystery of life as it exists in the present moment. Additionally, by remaining calm and patient in tough situations, we become a source of comfort and healing to those around us.
*Not-So-Vital Statistics : Could It Be True That Five Years of Our Lives Are Spent Waiting in Line?
A blog by the Lotus Heart Zen Meditation and Study Group members