How to be Patient
To develop patience, we can first come to understand that embodying this quality is a balancing act between opposing forces – that is, between surrender and control.
We often hear it said that “patience is a virtue,” but this virtue tends to get little more widespread attention than that. Waiting is challenging, yet when we learn to embrace the waiting game, we find that patience empowers us to live our lives harmoniously and to their fullest extent. Like anything else, patience is a skill that can be developed when we bring wholehearted attention to our thoughts, to our behaviours, and to the underlying drives that can leave us waiting feverishly for the next something to come along.
To develop patience, we can first come to understand that embodying this quality is a balancing act between opposing forces – that is, between surrender and control. When we surrender to the present moment, patience effortlessly fills the space. In this state of being, we trust the way that life unfolds and we rest with greater ease as it does. In order to flow more effortlessly in this way, we also need to develop some sense of control in our lives through self-control. We cannot control the universe at large, but we can work at better managing the one within – not through force, but through honest inquiry and a deeper understanding of the natural rhythms of life.
As we begin to explore the delicate dance between control and surrender in an effort to harness patience, we are likely to lose our footing a few times along the way; this is a part of being human. By calling upon our capacity for compassion and non-judgment as we develop our patience, we are better able to learn from whatever stands in the way of our being completely at ease with the continual unfolding of life, as fast or as slow as it may go.
“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Yoga and Meditation for Patience
One of the best ways to promote patience is through yoga practice. Yoga calls us to be completely tune into each moment, breath by breath. Even transitions between poses call for our attention, letting no moment pass by unseen. If we wish to learn how to remain patient in even the most challenging moments, we must start with staying present and accepting of the simplest ones. So, as we bring to our practice the intention to stay present within each moment, without exceptions, our habitual push towards the future begins to soften.
Specific yoga practices can help to ease our tendency to race ahead, such as the powerful meditative technique known as Yoga Nidra. This technique helps us to enter into a state of being somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, a place of deep relaxation and awareness. Yoga Nidra attunes us to elements that rest in the subconscious mind, highlighting subtle layers of emotion, memories, desires, feelings, and beliefs. This tuning in sheds light on hidden energies, helping to reduce their intensity and increase our self-awareness. Tensions begin to be released as we sink more deeply into relaxation and complete presence.
As we practice Yoga Nidra, we also come to discover a Sankalpa – that is, a vow or resolve in connection to the highest truth. The resolve should arrive naturally in our consciousness, not arriving as a product of what the mind thinks we should resolve. This in itself requires patience as we slowly enhance our capacity to listen intuitively to whatever arises in the mind-body vehicle. Such authentic listening strengthens our capacity to wait patiently as we quietly observe the landscape within.
The way we breathe also has a powerful effect on both body and mind, influencing our ability to move through life and various situations with patience. With the number of everyday stressors that tend to pile up in modern day life, it is not uncommon to find ourselves breathing into only the shallow cavities of the chest. When we breathe this way, we unwittingly activate the body’s fight-or-flight response, a state of being that is fuelled by stress hormones. As we draw the breath into the belly, we promote relaxation of both mind and body, bringing the physical and mental bodies naturally back to a state of balance.
Conscious effort to breathe into the belly helps us to regain control over a racing mind. As we come into the body this way, we reconnect with the present moment and find ourselves better equipped to move forward with a sense of calm. Patience is reinforced as we return to whatever exists right here and now.
The SWAN meditation technique is a way of mindfully observing whatever exists in the present moment. The acronym stands for, ‘strengths,’ ‘weaknesses,’ ‘ambitions,’ and ‘needs,’ and the practice encourages us to compassionately and non-judgmentally look into each of these areas of our lives. Whether we practice this meditation lying down, sitting straight, or through written reflection, we might inquire:
What are my strengths? Which ones do I wish to develop further?
What are my weaknesses and how can I accept them or see them as positive attributes?
What are my ambitions? What drives me to pursue them? Where do they stem from?
What do I truly need? What needs might in fact be desires? How can I fulfil my deepest needs?
The questions of this inquiry probe as deep as we are willing to go. It is important to keep in mind that we can ask these questions from a higher self within – from a vantage point that is able to witness the ego’s role in forming our beliefs. Non-judgmentally reflecting on such aspects of ourselves can help us to accept the present moment and ourselves as we stand. Where acceptance is present, patience follows.
Everyday Patience Practice
Patience is not only a virtue we can cultivate through spiritual practice; it can be harnessed through our everyday efforts to pay attention. From becoming more mindful of irritability arising from traffic delays to taking a slow and steady walk with no destination in mind, we can build on our ability to be with each unfolding moment, whether ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
Gardening and minding plants is one activity that promotes our ability to flow alongside life as we are called to accept the natural evolution of all things. Cooking wholesome meals from scratch also requires us to revert back to the notion of ‘slow food.’ Not only does this help us to mindfully become more patient, it also enhances our enjoyment of the present moment. When we move slowly, all of our senses have the opportunity to feel out the environment we are in. We take life into our experience rather than becoming consumed by the life happenings.
Opening ourselves during difficult conversations or to interactions with people we find challenging can also help to boost our ability to remain patient. When we mindfully bring the mind down to the heart during difficult interactions, we start to listen more attentively and intuitively. Something shifts and we begin to garner greater acceptance for others. Rather than jumping on our habitual tendency to flee challenging people, we open ourselves to the possibility that there is something to learn or to connect to through this present moment.
An Unfolding Practice
Developing patience is not something that we can achieve as if it were some tangible object or badge to be worn. Like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga (among most other things), it is a practice that we can continually develop. Life will continue to challenge our patience and, as we continue to explore ourselves and the world around us on a more mindful level, we find that we become better able to handle these challenges effectively. Finding the balance between control and surrender and having enough faith to accept life’s continual unfolding is a process, one that begins in this very moment.