One of the Buddha’s profound teachings is that the greatest prayer is patience. Nothing to do, nothing to say, nothing to think, but simply to be, and be patient. Let’s examine this further, what is patience? According to the Buddha’s teachings, patience is a mind structure that accepts the truth of a situation as it is. It contains all the meditation and self-awareness practices you have undertaken in order for you to arrive at this patient point that is the eternally present moment and from where you can see cause and effect, the subjective conditioning we bring to all our psychological states and interactions, our understanding of the ephemeral nature of change and nature of duality in this realm where we live our lives.
From this vantage point we can understand that to experience insult and distress without resentment and to persevere is not wimpish behavior but an act that arises from self-knowledge and courage. The stance manifests our understanding of objective truth. From a negative point of view, it seems that patient endurance is to tolerate an adverse situation. However, in reality, endurance is not in a cowardly way blindly accepting what happens. Once we have glimpsed objective reality beyond our relativism we can be proactive, yes proactive, by being patient, and not expending energy on emotions of anger, fear, resentment and blame. A mind-state of patience is effortless, a state of clear understanding.
Now, I am the first to admit that to achieve this state is not easy, it seems to me that many other people display far greater tolerance for accepting what is than I. “It is what it is”, Bill Bellichick, the coach of the New England Patriots football team (Go Pats!), has famously spoken this Buddhist truth-teaching to millions of people, so much so that it is now an American sports platitude. I do not know for certain but I am pretty sure he is handling the current NFL lockout with courageous endurance and this attitude will help his team maintain patience, composure and perseverance.
I am a Type A personality, a Three on the Enneagram, a Sagittarian; my DNA strong suit is not patience. This has been shoved in my face again these past weeks when a series of incidents outside my control (isn’t everything outside one’s control?) has collided with my equanimity and I have reacted with anger, denial, intolerance, blame, and yes, impatience. The tone of my voice on the telephone trying to deal with these “challenges” signaled this reactivity to whomever I was speaking and of course in return I received evermore polite (customer service people are trained to deflect negativity) but more and more tightly controlled responses, and…impatience. Each time, after the event, I have seen through the dynamic of reactivity in which I was caught. I do breathing exercises, I go for a short walk, I begin to realize: OK, so this will not be resolved today or tomorrow or maybe even for weeks. What is your part in this? What can you learn from it? As Milarepa, an early Buddhist teacher taught, “Hasten slowly and you will soon arrive.”
It is what it is. I am here, in this precious moment which is all I have and the person I am affecting most harmfully is myself, so, drop it. Enjoy the summer sunshine, the bird song, the long twilight evenings, everything in its time. Listen to what Ralph Waldo Emerson, American philosopher said, “Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience.”