A metaphor often used in Buddhist teachings is a pond of water. The Buddha likened a pond to the mind….when it is clear, we see things as they are and struggle less. When there is craving in the mind, the pond has been filled with dye. Most of life is this dance, back and forth, between seeing things clearly and then being cloudy in our understanding of not only what is true but when and how to act during this process. One of the most helpful practices of bringing skill to this dance is the simple but deep practice of patience. Lao-Tzu captured this sentiment in his poem from the Tao-te-Ching:
“Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?”
Certain attitudes and mental qualities support meditation practice and provide a rich soil in which mindfulness can thrive. Patience is one of these attitudes. We are actually tilling the soil of our mind so that with patience as a foundation, the seeds of other wholesome and ethical qualities emerge….right understanding, right thought, right speech and right action, and right livelihood.
If one cultivates patience, one can’t help but cultivate mindfulness. After all, if you really aren’t trying to get anywhere else in the moment, patience takes care of itself. It is remembering that things unfold in their own time. Seasons come and go and along with them, leaves and plants bud and bloom and then die and grow dormant until the spring comes again. All of this can’t be hurried.
This simple fact and experience reminds us that our being in a hurry usually doesn’t help, and in some cases, can cause a great deal of suffering…sometimes in us and those who are around us.
This is a practice I am intentionally cultivating right now since my habitual way of being in the world has often been impatient, which in its deepest sense is not wanting things to be the way they are. Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book Wherever You Go There You Are says “Scratch the surface of impatience and what you will find lying beneath it, subtly or not so subtly, is anger. It is this strong energy of not wanting things to be the way they are and blaming someone, often ourselves, or some thing for it.”
One of my more typical impatient scenarios is trying to fix something mechanical that has broken or even worse, assembling something—changing a tire, fixing my lawn mower, attaching a new latch on my fence gate, etc. Really very simple things that keep my life running smoothly, and yet….not so simple for me. Whether there is truly a mechanical ineptitude in terms of visual-spatial skills in me or whether there is a mental/emotional obstacle because of lack of experience, or probably both, I get really impatient in performing these tasks or even just thinking about them. Oh yes, and then there is the computer. I won’t even go into that.
I notice the aversion arising, the tendency toward avoidance, and the absolute irritation of definitely not wanting it to be broken. I sometimes think and even say out loud, “Why are you being so difficult? Don’t you know that this is not one of my strengths? Why can’t you just cooperate and get fixed easily and quickly? Or how dare you break in the first place?
Well, we know that’s not how physical things work. Of course they break down. I know that! Why am I so impatient and getting so irritated? Ahh…wanting it to be different and all the old associations and mental formations I bring into that.