Patience is a quality we all want. From time to time, we all encounter situations which benefit from patience, whether it be a neighbour making too much noise, or a friend 'pushing our buttons' and making us angry or upset. Patience is the ability to encounter such interruptions to our environment, and remain calm.
I have a picture on my wall of a dog lying quietly on the ground while a kitten plays with its mouth. To me, it illustrates patience, because much of patience is to do with tolerating things which would ordinarily be taxing, but which we allow peacefully and calmly because we have an understanding of the situation. In the case of the dog in my picture, it seems to understand that it cannot expect the playful kitten to be patient. It flexes its behaviour wisely to the situation. At other times, I imagine the dog would growl, or take evasive action. But it reads the current situation, and decides not to react violently.
I thought I'd offer a few techniques for remaining patient in adversity. But first, what characterises the situations that tax our patience, and why do they tax it?
SITUATIONS WHICH CHALLENGE PATIENCE
Here are, I suggest, the main types of situation which challenge patience:
1. Events which aggravate our senses (for instance, loud noises)
2. Events which prevent us from performing our intentions (for instance, traffic jams)
3. People who don't seem to learn as quickly as we would like (for instance, people slow to learn something we are expert in)
4. Being ignored, discounted or passed by for long periods of time (for instance, not being given a pay rise for years)
5. Events which spoil our preferred patterns of understanding, environment or behaviour (for instance, a shop running out of our usual food)
Tracing these types of situation to their causes, we find they have a few things in common. Hint: we don't usually get impatient about things that happen half way across the world. I suggest the common factors are:
1. All these things challenge our sense of importance
2. All these things challenge our assumption that we should not be slowed down
3. All these things challenge our assumption that we should not be interrupted
4. All these things challenge our existing customs or habits
5. All these things challenge our sense that the world should adapt to our needs
In summary, we operate with a set of assumptions which, combined, read like this:
'I am important and have my expectations; it's the world's job to adapt to my ways, and not to challenge me.'
THE KEY TO REMAINING PATIENT
The key to remaining patient is to reverse the above set of assumptions. If you reverse the above set of assumptions, you get the following:
'I am not more important than others, and have no expectations; I accept the world's ways, and accept its challenges.'
In short, the qualities to develop are humility and acceptance.
TECHNIQUES FOR REMAINING PATIENT
Here are a few techniques you can learn; they are simple to try, and believe me, you get better with practice.
1. If you experience sense interruptions (e.g. loud noises), then actively welcome them. Say to yourself 'thank you, teacher noise, for putting me in my place'.
2. If you are slowed down (e.g. by traffic), then actively welcome it. Say to yourself 'thank you, teacher traffic, for putting me in my place'.
3. If someone is slow to learn, then actively welcome the slower pace. Say to yourself 'thank you, slow learner, for putting me in my place'.
4. If you are ignored, then actively welcome the ignorer. Say to yourself 'thank you, ignorer, for putting me in my place'.
5. If your habits are disturbed (e.g. by a shop being out of stock), then actively welcome the shortfall. Say to yourself 'thank you, poor supply, for putting me in my place.'
Saying 'thank you' reminds you of acceptance, and saying 'putting me in my place' reminds you of humility.
Some people think the above is wrong because it can imply acceptance of injustice (for instance, if a woman is paid less than her male colleagues).
However, you are still free to make your argument for justice if you choose. It is just that, first, you have reminded yourself to accept the situation as it is, and to behave with humility. You can then, if you wish, fight for a particular outcome. Your arguments will probably be better communicated because of your patient manner; the listener may be more inclined to hear you, and you may find it easier to think clearly and plan your course of action.
If you want to learn patience, then practice saying 'thank you for putting me in my place' whenever you are inconvenienced. You can then take your next action from a place of peace.