Cultivating the Virtue of Patience


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by Jayaram V

If you walk slowly you will have an opportunity to see many wonderful things on the way. But if you run most of the time, what you get to see is a blur. It is what we see mostly in our lives, a blur. In our eagerness to accomplish our goals, we miss to a great extent the richness and wholeness of our lives. We do not consider being alive in an otherwise empty and inanimate universe is in itself a rare blessing and a great opportunity.

Once we are born, the race is on. We live like comets, although we love to be stars. In fact, in a fast paced world like ours it is difficult to be patient. If you have any doubts try to drive slowly on a highway and see how many angry glares you will receive. For most of us, living itself is a chore just as driving is. Our impatience is reflected in many aspects of our lives. It is profoundly obvious when we are on the internet. We browse in a hurry. We do not read any information with enough attention. We look for what we want and move on.

In the real world, many times we don’t even remember what we have done during the day or the previous days. Since we have a lot of choice in making our selections, we just don't appreciate anything easily. Whether it is movies, music, books, games, gadgets or entertainment, we keep looking for something new and exciting. If we don't like friends, we just ignore them and look for new ones. We don’t listen to other patiently. We don’t give them a chance to be themselves or prove themselves. We want instant results. We look for instant gratification. Our bonds are loose. Our commitments are shaky. We bring our restlessness into every aspect of our lives, whether it is watching television or drinking a cup of coffee or having lunch. In a need driven society, where you are judged by what you accomplish and what you have, how can anyone practice patience? How can we assure ourselves that if we wait for something or someone, we will not lose our competitive edge or our valuable time and resources? Most importantly, how can we cultivate patience in a fast changing world, amidst impatient people?

It may not be prudent to be patient on all occasions. We need discretion to know when to slowdown and when to run in the race of our lives. Our resources are limited. We have only a limited window to live our lives fully here upon earth. We cannot recover the time we lose as the days flip by. We cannot rewind what we have experienced, what we have lost or let go.

So the first thing we need to do to cultivate patience is to exercise proper discretion. In matters that are important for our survival and success where we need to be extra careful, we have to be patient till we get the results we want. There is a time for everything. In certain matters we cannot push ourselves beyond point. There is a natural limitations and natural order of things which we all must obey. So we must learn when to wait and when to move on. For example patience is necessary in case of the following:

1. Negotiations

2. Achieving goals

3. Relationships

4. Teaching and learning

5. Perfecting skills

6. Situations beyond our control

7. Processes that require time and effort

We need patience when we are dealing with financial matters. When you apply for a loan or a credit card, please make sure that you understand carefully the terms and conditions and sign the paper only after you are fully satisfied. The same goes for any agreement you may sign with your telephone company or a cable company. You have to be especially careful with cable companies, such as Dish network because they make you sign an agreement upfront at the time of installing the connection, with no cancellation provision in the contract. Once you sign an agreement with them, you are stuck for one or two years and there is no way you can get out of the contract unless you agree to pay hundreds of dollars in penalties to them. If you have any doubt, please search the internet and you will see hundreds and thousands of complaints lodged by people who signed up in a hurry various contracts with big companies only to realize that they got a raw deal in the end.

Patience is also required when you are investing your money in stocks. Investing in stock market requires a lot of patience and study. Just as you cannot swing your bat at every ball that is coming your way while playing cricket or baseball, you cannot blindly invest in any stock that you find on the internet or in the stock market. You have to do a lot of research and wait for the right opportunity. When you buy a stock or sell it, you must exercise great patience and caution. Sometimes, why most of the time, the stocks do not move according to your expectations. So you have to keep your emotions under control and stick to your original plan or trading strategy.

Patience is also required in marital relationships and in your dealings with your children. Marriage is a responsibility. It is whereyour patience is tested to the core. When you speak the words that you don't intend to speak, when you engage in actions impulsively, you may rock your marriage and make any reconciliation impossible. Same is the case with children, who are growing up and developing their own individuality. They may not like to trust you as much as they did when they were small. They may not find your advice and your words as interesting and comforting as before. Unless you give them space and allow them to return to you in a circuitous way, after going through many experiences, you will probably lose them forever.

When you are young, it is difficult to be patient. But as you grow in age, you have to learn to slow down and take things in your stride. Patience is also an important requirement in religion and spiritual practice. It may take years before you see any tangible results with your spiritual practice. You may spend countless days and nights praying to God with no positive results. God is personification of patience. He gives us immense freedom to live our lives and exercise our discretion. He does not react to evil as quickly and decisively as we all want Him to in our moments of impatience. Since He is not attached to anything, His patience is a natural outcome of His essential nature. If we also cultivate detachment, we will also be patient under all circumstances.

The Buddhist approach to cultivating patience

From a Buddhist perspective there are three important areas where you can practice patience.

1. Your thinking and behavior.

2. In dealing problems and suffering.

3. In accepting the world as it is

The first one is what happens to you internally when you react to the events that unfold in front of you. It is about how you respond and tolerate all the injustices, negativity and evil that  you perceive in the external world. What do you do when you are ill treated or misunderstood or misinterpreted by others. What do you do when you encounter situations that hurt you and disturb you? Do you rush into judgment and counter attack them or view the events with detachment and let your higher thinking prevail? If you  control your thoughts with paitence, if you can change your perspective with forebearance, perhaps you will be less troubled by what you see and experience in your life.

The second one is about how you deal with hardship and suffering in your life. Many people just can't tolerate problems and suffering. They feel shaken and anxious when problems begin to overwhelm them and rush to resolve them in their anxiety to take control and avoid suffering. Do your react impatiently to the problems and difficulties you face in your life or treat them as challenges and deal with them rationally and intelligently without losing your inner balance? With time, patience and perseverance you can solve many problem in life.

The third one is about the ways of the world, which you cannot change and over which you have no control. How you manage your feelings and expectations while dealing with the naked realities of life is of great importance. If you are overly judgmental and sensitive, you will suffer a lot at every turn and twist of life as you are presented with a slice of reality that is not to your liking. The world is a transient place. Things change here from one moment to another. There is nothing we can take for granted. People often behave in the most confusing and convoluted manner. They may not care for the nicer aspects of life. They may not understand the value of your life or in the values in which you believe. The best way to live in such a world is to let go of your attachments and expectations and accept the world, the people and things for what they are, without judgment, ill will and resentment. You require immense patience to cultivate such an attitude and accept the world as it is.

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