Have you been to a protest when the person calling for civility was screaming angrily? Or have you ever been so impassioned about making your point that you forgot to stop talking so you could listen to what the other person had to say in response? Often, we bring passion to our activism and outreach efforts but fail to bring a healthy dose of patience.
We can draw inspiration for patience from our spiritual teachers, like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has taught — and modeled — that our enemies teach us patience, that even in the most harrowing circumstances we can respond with compassion, forgiveness, and love. Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan taught that the foundation of patience is hope. Christian theologian and philosopher St. Augustine taught that patience is the companion of wisdom. Muslim judge and teacher Shaykh Muhammad al-Jamal taught that patience is comprised of faith and gratitude. Meditation teacher Eknath Easwaran notes that "when you are able to be patient with others, you can be patient with yourself, and that will give you all the inner support you need to persevere and make the changes you want to make in your life."
These perspectives on patience raise important questions for us. How much faith do we have in American democracy? In our citizenry? Have we lost hope for an America that reflects our democratic values and virtues? Do we remember all the things we’re grateful for about our country? Are we as impatient with ourselves as we are with others? Do we have the inner support we need to approach our activism and outreach with compassion, forgiveness, love, and wisdom?
Here are some suggestions for cultivating patience:
- Reflect on the questions above. Jot down your answers. Then spend a few minutes contemplating where your faith and hope is strong. Brainstorm ideas for what you can do to strengthen your faith and hope even further. Pick a few of your ideas and follow through on them.
- In your journal or on a notepad, write in one column the things in your life that regularly trigger your impatience. In a second column, write an attitude or action that could help you slow down in that situation. At the start of the day, make an intention to be more patient. See what hindrances come into your mind. Write those down too.
- In her book, The Power of Patience, M. J. Ryan offers some helpful suggestions on how to practice this virtue. Here are two of them:
- "Thank others for being patient when you've been the one fumbling for the right change and holding everyone up. It will defuse their tension and yours, and perhaps encourage others to do the same."
- "Ask for help. Lots of times we are impatient because we are overloaded. There's no prize at the end of your life for doing so much, particularly if you do it in a frazzled state."
- Finally, here's a practice from the Buddhist teacher Tenzin Palmo: "When the traffic lights are red in New Delhi, they display the word 'relax.' Every time you come to a red light, instead of grinding your teeth, try seeing [the red light] as an opportunity for practice. Connect with the in-going and out-going breath. Be one with the breathing." Once you’ve gotten pretty good at relaxing at traffic lights, start practicing the same breathing and relaxation technique when you hit the metaphorical red lights in your life — when your project keeps getting delayed, when you don’t get the response you wanted, when your candidate doesn’t win, etc.