Eknath Easwaran (1910 -1999) was the spiritual leader and founder of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation in the San Francisco area. A Fulbright scholar and former university professor in his native India, Easwaran authored many books including Words to Live By. In this salutary volume in Nilgiri Press's Pocket Wisdom Series (Renewal: A Little Book of Courage & Hope), this wise spiritual teacher probes many ways to practice patience. Easwaran's grandmother said again and again: "Patience is the ornament of the brave." Most of us still think of bravery in relation to battlefields, whereas all of the world's religions have told us that patience is the real badge of bravery, which develops with practice.
One common assumption in the West is the association of patience with passivity; we think that only the impatient who work with speed and gusto get to the top positions in society. But Saint Teresa of Avila offers another perspective: patience attains everything; it enables us to reach our goals. Mahatma Gandhi modeled this spiritual practice in his dealings with enemies by being kind to them in all circumstances. According to Easwaran, patience is not only a mental virtue, it is also a physical pacifier. The less we allow the actions of others to rattle us, the more peaceful and calm we can be in our bodies and minds.
The family is a workshop for the practice of patience as we deal with those who are sick and complaining, with the confusions of elders, with the crying fits of infants, and with the everyday impatience of our partners. This spiritual practice can also be useful in dealing with difficult people as Easwaran notes in the following passage:
"My grandmother had a very pungent phrase for difficult people: 'A lash in the eye.' We all know from experience how an eyelash in the eye can be so irritating that we just cannot think about anything else. That is exactly how difficult people affect those around them. But for the mystics, this lash in the eye is an opportunity for learning the skills in life that matter most: patience, forgiveness, and freedom from likes and dislikes. When they think of someone who has been a thorn in their flesh, they will say to themselves, 'Without you, how could I have ever learned to be patient? How could I ever have learned to forgive?' "
Another arena for practice is the workplace where we may have to deal with criticism and harsh words; we can patiently endure these irritations and slights. Patience has a lot to contribute to the process of peacemaking; it enables us in situations filled with tension or conflict to enjoy differences, to listen to others with kindness and respect, to find common ground, and to work together on solving problems. This little book celebrates the riches of practicing patience in all arenas of life.