Patience

Stone in creek

‘In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

  1. By the time!
  2. Surely man is in loss,
  3. Except those who believe and do good, and      exhort one another to Truth, and exhort one another to patience.’

This beautiful line, from the Quran (103, Surah Al-‘Asr), really struck a chord with me when I heard it presented by one of the Muslim ladies at an interfaith friendship meeting. To consciously encourage each other to be patient – we have become such an impatient society. Patience used to be more highly regarded – remember the saying ‘patience is a virtue’ – but now it’s often seen as being old-fashioned, an obstacle perhaps to instant and magnificent success. If we are patient, we might miss out on something! People might take advantage, and walk all over us! We might only get through 98% of our to-do list today instead of all of it plus a bit extra!

A few years ago, turning left at a busy intersection, I was waiting for the pedestrians to finish crossing. The car behind me was tooting furiously, even though, in order to turn left at that moment, I would have had to literally run over the pedestrians and kill them.  It was quite bizarre, but not an isolated incident. Pity the driver who takes more than a tenth of a second to start moving again when the lights turn green – if you’re not out of the blocks like Usain Bolt at the London Olympics, you might cop a torrent of abuse. Driving back from a retreat down a curvy mountain road, in pouring rain, I was overtaken on a blind corner by a four wheel drive. Moments later, a car came the other way. If that car had left home two seconds earlier, quite a few of us could have been dead. We’ve all seen behaviour like this on the roads.

Patience is one of the core attributes of mindfulness, as formulated by Jon Kabat-Zinn. When we meditate regularly, we develop more patience with ourselves, with others, and with the circumstances of our lives. We create more space around our experience – it’s almost like we learn to infuse our life with the breath. During my first five-day meditation retreat, I struggled day after day with impatience. I remember sitting in the meditation hall during the afternoon sessions, which seemed interminable, desperate to get up and move. On the property next door, trail bikes were going up and down the mountain hour after hour. So much for peace and quiet! As I sat with impatience I could feel it transforming into irritation (those trail bikes!), frustration, anger, and finally rage. Staying with the rage, still not moving, I eventually got in touch with the hurt underneath the anger. It was a valuable lesson to me about the place of impatience in my life. A feeling of impatience, slight irritation, is a doorway to becoming more aware of what is actually going on in my life.

Patience is a gift, but so is impatience, if we listen to its message. By cultivating more patience in ourselves, we are encouraging those around us to be more patient with themselves and their lives as well. To me, patience is, at its heart, an act of kindness.

 

Weekly practice idea:

Notice times of impatience, and take a moment to breathe into them. Can impatience sometimes be a signal, a message worth listening to?