Patience: A Way of Life
A significant amount of our lives are spent in hurrying from one thing to another or in multitasking. Why are we all in such a hurry? It is often difficult for us to slow down and just enjoy the moment.
I have noticed through the years that the word patience is rarely heard and seldom practiced by many of us. I know that being patient has been a real challenge for me throughout much of my life.
Commonly when I have felt impatient, it has come from being in too much of a hurry rather than slowing down and simply being in the moment. Often at these times I have felt frustrated, afraid, sad, or angry and have not acknowledge, or perhaps not even been aware of the feelings involved.
When I was in my mid 30’s I was a substance abuse counselor, and had a husband and four teenagers at home. This being a difficult time in my life, I learned to say the Serenity Prayer, a prayer often associated with the 12-step program. I trained myself to say it every time I recognized that I was frustrated, annoyed or angry as I learned to be more patient.
The prayer goes like this: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.
Soon I was saying the Serenity Prayer so often that it automatically came to mind before I even knew that I was upset with someone, something, or some situation.
During that time I also learned the acronym HALT which is also popular in the 12-step program. HALT is a reminder that means; don’t get to hungry, to angry, to lonely or to tired. My problem was getting to hungry. I knew that to delay or miss a meal would mean dealing with a headache and exposing others to my dark side.
As a parent impatience was the norm! As a grandmother, after much awareness and practice, I realize how much patience it takes to train children to be conscientious, kind, and loving human beings.
I expect my grandchildren to take as long as it takes to learn how to put their things where they belong, and absorb the many lessons they need to learn in life. Since I am more consistent and kinder in my approach they are gradually becoming less resistant to the change.
The best definition of patience that I have found is expressed by Allan Lokos in his book, Patience: The Art of Peaceful Living. He writes, Patience is characterized by an even-tempered perseverance and the capacity to move through challenging situations calmly and graciously. It is restraint when provoked and the capacity to experience difficulty, hardship, inconvenience, adversity, and stress while remaining calm and rational… With patience we are more likely to see things as they really are and proceed with greater wisdom and compassion, making decisions that reflect the person we want to be. …Patience creates a spaciousness that lets us feel as if we have more time than we ever had. Thus, patience can alter our everyday experience from one of anxiety and deficiency to one of peace and plentitude.
It takes a strong commitment to develop and continue the practice of patience rather than reacting automatically in hurtful ways when we don’t agree with what is being said or done by others, or when we don’t approve of a situation.
So what causes us to be impatient, and how can we develop patience so that we can respond to life rather than automatically react to situations?
As Ron Valle and I have talked about in our book, Opening to Dying and Grieving: A Sacred Journey, the nature of life is change. When we cling to things, people, places and situations, or when we crave what we don’t have we end up feeling dissatisfied, empty and exhausted.
Impatience comes from our wanting things to be different from what they are, and thinking that our happiness comes from outside of ourselves. The result of not accepting that everything changes is disappointment frustration and anger, which is the prelude to impatience.
When we can realize the impermanence of life and see things as they really are, we can find inner peace and enjoy each priceless moment life has to offer.
Many of our spiritual traditions tell us that the way to this inner peace is through contemplation, meditation and prayer. They also teach us that life’s lessons on inner peace can come from the trials and tribulations of life itself.
Contemplation helps us to see what is behind the feelings that keep us from being patient. Meditation helps us to bring clarity of mind, and prayer helps us to realize we are not alone in our struggle.
Through contemplating on our inner world, with the intention of changing the negative thoughts that plague us, we can become more aware of what we are telling ourselves, and work on changing any detrimental thought patterns that arise.
Often the one we feel the most impatient with is our self. We need to be aware of, and change the damaging putdowns that we tell ourselves to more compassionate and constructive thoughts.
Allan Lokos says it well when he writes: For many of us the most difficult person with whom to be patient is ourself. Our pride, personas, and ego can feel disrupted and threatened every time we feel we have done less than our best. …Forgiveness of self and others arises more easily when we are in touch with our feelings and see clearly what triggered our anger. Otherwise, we can get caught up in justifying it, which does nothing to move us toward a sense of peace. …When feelings such as anger and hatred arise they can be fueled by distortions and mental images that we create and accept as reality. …Effort balanced with patience and a deep level of honesty with self are necessary.
It is not helpful to suppress the feelings, nor ruminate about them when we are feeling annoyed, frustrated, or angry. Instead, we need to be aware of the story behind them, and not speak while we are still in the heat of the situation.
By contemplating, with the intention of honestly looking at our lives, we can gain clarity and patience and learn to articulate what we are thinking and feeling. It is by gently accepting oneself that we find the strength and courage to change the destructive patterns that keep us stuck.
When we teach ourselves to slow down and look within we learn to recognize that “still small voice,”* which is the inspirational words of spirit whispering to us from within.
Meditation* is one of the best ways to learn patience. In meditation we observe the thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise in the mind and body, not ruminating nor judging but simply acknowledging them, letting them go, and coming back to the breath until we eventually experience a sense of inner peace.
Prayer is also invaluable in learning patience! Praying helps us to realize that we are not alone, and that spirit is in control of life. We just need to do our part!
My mother use to say, “Never underestimate the power of prayer.” I find this to be true! Whenever I pray for help, regardless if I get my way or not, it turns out for the best.
Prayer isn’t only about asking for what we want though, it is inviting spirit into our lives, by speaking from our hearts, and being grateful for what we have.
Finally, spiritual traditions teach us that the value of pain and suffering is that it has the potential of changing our world of complacency and waking us up to a deeper reality.
Allan Lokos writes, The suffering brought on by major illness, the death of a loved one, or the complete loss of financial security can provide the kind of thunderbolt that causes us to look at ourselves and the world as we have never done before. Being brought to our knees by such events can be the stimulus for introspection and spiritual growth.
Recently, while I was in the library, I noticed an elderly woman stop and wait for children to run past as she was about to leave the building. As I watched her patiently waiting, I reassuringly mentioned to her that patience is one of the many things we learn as we get older.
In slurred English she slowly told me the story of how she had a stroke a couple of years ago, and at first was so extremely angry and very impatient. Eventually she learned how to slow down and be patient. In her new reality she has found that she is much more compassionate, and is able to enjoy the fullness of life like never before.
When we realize that life includes suffering we are more likely to respond with patience, wisdom, and compassion rather than reacting out of our judgment, fear, hurt and anger.
Patience is worth developing simply because life is more interesting when we take a moment to listen to our intuitive reflections. For me one of the greatest benefits in being patient is not only that it gives us the opportunity to hear that intuitive voice that whispers the next best choice for us to take, but being patient also brings with it a much more peaceful life.
As a New Year’s resolution, I encourage everyone to make the intention to practice patience in order to bring more peace into our lives, and into our world.
Love and Peace,
*1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a
*For more information regarding meditation I refer you to my Jan. 12, 2017 blog on meditation at https://www.exploringthesacredmystery.com
*The picture for this blog is of my granddaughter Patiance and her son Ethan.
Mary Mohs LVN, MA, RYT,