Here is a great working definition of patience:
Patience is a mind that is able to accept, fully and happily, whatever occurs. ~ How to Solve our Human Problems
Maybe we think that means we practice patience when someone criticizes me or I lose my job or something, and it does mean that we accept the circumstances of our life with a happy mind so that we can then learn and improve. But it also includes whatever occurs, including our own painful thoughts. We accept even our angry thoughts, accept them fully and happily – because they are there. Not, “Oh no, I’m having a horrible thought about this person, I hate them, I’m a failure, and all I wanted to do was practice patience!” No, we let it be there, but we don’t need deep conversations with it, we just let it sit there. We can even be sort of curious about it, but we give it no power, and we don’t identify with it. We identify instead with our pure potential, compassion, patience, faith.
Carrying on from this article.
What happens to the painful thoughts if we stop giving them the power to hurt us? They tend to slink away through our lack of interest in them.
Soon I shall be free
If instead we stew in these feelings, we are choosing to suffer. We can observe ourselves doing this and see how we are destroying our own freedom in the process. When we identify with these bad feelings, we lose our options. It is actually our self-grasping ignorance that is making us do this, tying us to suffering. If we can observe this, we can see that we are creating our own suffering and therefore have the power to destroy it. If we destroy our self-grasping ignorance we can and will be completely free.
Our thoughts are free
Geshe Kelsang continues to say about patience:
It is much more than just gritting our teeth and putting up with things. Being patient means to welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other than what they are.
That “should” word. Point is, things are NOT other than what they are. You should be different; this shouldn’t be like this! I shouldn’t have this thought in my head” … this is not coming from a position of strength but of weakness, fighting or battling what’s going on. “No! I can’t deal with this!” But it is like that, so we are already losing if we don’t accept it. Whereas accepting whatever is arising fully and happily puts us in a strong position – we say “Yes, that’s happening” (because it is), and then deal with it. Whatever happens, fine, and now I can deal with it and/or let it go.
Watch the conversation in your mind when you are upset – there is a big internal NOOOOOOO!!!!! With patience it is “YESSSS!, or at least OK!” It is not gritting our teeth and bearing it, but genuinely accepting what is happening right now because it is what is happening right now. Of course, this is easier said than done because we are used to saying Noooo!, but we can still get started. As Geshe Kelsang says:
It is always possible to be patient; there is no situation so bad that it cannot be accepted patiently, with an open, accommodating, and peaceful heart.
If we haven’t trained, it is unlikely we’ll get to this point overnight, but we can improve over the days, weeks, and months until we are able to accept peacefully the challenges that life will inevitably throw us, as well as our feelings about them.
Patience is important because life is full of difficulties — we are constantly encountering situations or people we don’t want to encounter, probably even in the last ten minutes; and also the things we want to happen quite regularly don’t happen. Plus, there is that background niggling dissatisfaction at things not being quite as good as they should be – we still crave something else, or something more, and that makes us tense in itself.
Then there are the big sufferings in life – the “four rivers” of birth, ageing, sickness, and death. If we can’t transform sickness, we’ll get upset a lot because our bodies are choc full of stuff that can go wrong. Our organs, ears, eyes, head – these can all hurt and generally do sooner or later. We’re living in pain machines – it is so easy to torture people, you just have to prod them and it hurts. What about ageing? In our culture we worship youth and losing it feels like a freaking disaster. Every sagging jowl, every wrinkle, upsets us – “I shouldn’t look like that when I look in the mirror! Who can I blame? The hairdresser. He cut my hair so badly, it’s his fault!” Then after all this we die and, if we’re not practiced in patience by then it is probably going to be distinctly unpleasant to leave everything we know forever.
So patience is important now and later. And in all our countless lives. Happiness in the future entails controlling our mind now. Anger is an inner poison that can poison all our lives if we let it.
Patience makes us strong
We could be far more in control than we are at present. We cannot control whether or not someone yells at us or buys us donuts, much less control the whole world – but we can gain control over our own minds, at which point we’ll be free to react in whichever way we choose. When we master our thoughts, we can start to create the reality we want from the inside out. That is all the control we need.
More coming soon. Meanwhile, please share your comments on how patience has made you stronger, if it has 🙂
Hey Luna thank you for these posts!!!
Am I right in thinking that the only thing you have to accept, ever , is the present moment? I’m struggling to understand the relationship between the present moment and the Tibetan tradition of being more focused on the experience of our future lives. What’s the relationship? Thank you for your inspiring work x
Yes, you’re right. There doesn’t have to be a contradiction between accepting what is arising in the present moment and using the present moment to create the causes for happiness and freedom in the future by practicing patience, kindness, love, moral discipline, and so on.
I love the ‘Ok’ ! I find myself doing that a lot since meeting Geshlas teachings , there is usually a long gap between the ‘O’ and the ‘K’ as my mind grapples with the habitual aversion that wants to arise lol. Also to laugh inwardly (not always appropriate outwardly ) I find helps , life really does throw some weird stuff at us and it’s all our karma – Buddhism is amazing thank you Geshla ❤
🙂 Buddhism is amazing.
Patience is gradually enabling me to accept my illness (cancer), and my anxiety, which is just about as hard to accept. It’s true, it’s very gradual, but fortunately it does feels like strength developing in my mind. Also fortunately, as the strength develops, you gradually notice it affecting other areas of your life, eg social anxiety, that were formerly stubbornly impossible to reduce – so the perks are part of what keeps you going. Knowing it’s what your Guru wants you to do, and eventually it will enable you to work to help him, is a huge incentive that works when I remember it – the faith works together with the development of the patience and makes it so much easier. Also, the happiness of patience gradually lessens the strength of the anxiety, but again, it’s a long haul – remembering future lives certainly helps, and support from sangha and my family of this life is indispensible.
Holding the space of patience is the best method for parenting
Also, the very challenging
Challenging but worth it?!
This has been really helpful. You have explained very clearly what patience is. What help us all is “it is never too late to start practicing it”.
I’m glad this is helpful. And I agree it is never too late. Today is the day to start, today is the only day we’ve ever had 🙂
I’m just going into labour as I read this article and I know it will change my impending experience for the better (having been through it previously with an impatient mind that silently screamed NO!!). Simply thinking ‘yes’ when I have a contraction is bound to lessen the mental pain. Thanks, as always for your inspiring writing X
How incredible! Quite the challenge 🙂 All the very best to you both, sending prayers, please do let me know how you get on.
When my kids were little, I used to tell my husband, if one of them tries to argue with you, don’t argue back. A sailboat can’t move without the wind, nor can a person argue alone. Patience with the mind, watching thoughts but not following them is similar to the sailboat. My mood can’t worsen if I don’t follow the thought.
that’s a great analogy! Put no wind under the sails of our thoughts. (From a Tantric point of view, our inner winds are also responsible for our thoughts.)