The Practice of Patience

Whether it’s a slow lane of traffic, finding the right job, waiting for test results, putting off buying a new car until the credit cards are paid off… it’s only natural to want the suffering we experience in these types of situations to end – as quickly as possible. Unfortunately relief doesn’t always come when we want it to. Sometimes we have to slog it out. Often we are challenged to be patient even when – as we know well – patience does not come easily to our species.

It’s not so surprising that the root of the word patient comes from the Latin verb pati, which means to suffer. Mahatma Gandhi called suffering “the one indispensable condition of our being.” The Buddha acknowledged suffering as an important part of our path to enlightenment. The message these great teachers put forward is clear – not all suffering is bad. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul wrote that “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces patience, and patience produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us…”

Why it’s a virtue
Patience then is the capacity to be calm and uncomplaining in the face of a trying situation. A patient person is willing and able to bear less-than-ideal circumstances or to stand strong in the face of opposition or adversity. Why patience is considered a virtue becomes eminently clear if you break it down:

• The practice of patience requires self-restraint and self-control. When you lose patience, you lose control of your emotions.

• A patient person is cool and collected. An impatient person is angry, impulsive and stressed out.

• A patient person is in control of the situation. An impatient person is being controlled by the situation.

• A patient person acts constructively to improve circumstances. An impatient person behaves destructively and can even be a detriment to others.

Stress reliever
It’s certainly not easy, but when we cultivate patience in our lives, we reduce the stress on others and ourselves. Patience gives us the space we need to think constructively in the present. Patience also encourages us to go gently into the future. How many times have you grown impatient, maybe even despondent, for a certain something to happen in your life? Whether it’s progressing along a career path, losing a few pounds, finding the right partner or simply getting through the morning commute – cultivating patience is one of the keys to your success. Here are a few ways to practice patience and make it work for you!

The art of waiting
Accept that things take time. We all have hopes and dreams, but they’re not all going to come true at once, tomorrow, next week or even next year. When you accept that things take time, life becomes much less stressful. Eventually, you’ll look back and think, “Why was I in such a hurry?”

Take it step by step. If you’re feeling overloaded by all the things you’d like to do or want to have happen in your life, yet also feel impatient for things to start manifesting, it’s time to ease up. Try taking things one day and one problem at a time.

Work your way up. If your dream is to become a world leader, you probably wouldn’t start by running for the highest office in the land as an unknown. Instead, you’d set realistic, short-term goals. Perhaps you’d start by volunteering to work on an issue in your community, then get on a neighborhood council, run for public office and work your way up. Setting realistic goals is key to the practice of patience.

Reframe your perspective. Is traffic driving you crazy? Instead of thinking of it as wasted time (while getting frustrated and angry), think of it as time for yourself. Listen to music that interests you, get up to speed on current events while listening to the radio or go to the library and check out some books on CD for the long commute.

Take a breather
Remember to love yourself along the way. Just because something is taking longer than expected (for example, that elusive idea of “success”), it doesn’t mean you don’t have the chops or that it’s never going to happen. Self-doubt is only too happy to creep into life’s journey. With the practice of patience you can ban self-doubt, and find the courage to love yourself along the way.

Stop to think. Before leaning on the horn or sighing loudly so everyone can tell how annoyed you are, stop to think about the situation. Is there something constructive you can do? If nothing can be done, use your mind to help shift the focus off your frustration. You might try visualizing a special place or think about an activity that you really enjoy doing.

Check in with the body. Our bodies often bear the brunt of our impatient frustration. If you’re feeling impatient, stay still then pay close attention to your body. If you find you’re hunched over and breathing shallowly, straighten up, pull your shoulders back and begin breathing deeply. Many times this will help you regain a sense of composure and patience.

Most importantly, take these words to heart: “Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself.” (Saint Frances de Sales).

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