Cultivating Patience: Beyond Lightening Up
In my last blog I highlighted what is normal about impatience. I demonstrated how lightening up about the rise of uncomfortable feelings helps inhibit impulsively acting on them. There is more to cultivating patience. Judgmental thinking…including judgment about your impatience…can interfere with learning a few things about yourself. Being open to the unreliability of self-talk can help. The greater your arousal, the more likely your narrative will be distorted, and the more likely you will believe your story line. Certainty that a person or a situation caused your abrupt emotional shift can lead to suffering.
You brain will direct your attention immediately toward any assumed source of sudden discomfort. Your first impulse will be to stop what you think caused the feeling. The self-protective instinct is a natural function of a normal brain. The instinct is not a problem; acting mindlessly is.
Have you ever noticed how your perspective often changes once you have calmed down? Years ago I was sitting at a stop light at a busy intersection, waiting to turn right toward home. A small truck opposite me ran the red light and headed in my direction, barely missing other drivers already in the intersection who were honking their horns at this reckless driver. I was outraged that he was endangering lives. He proceeded into the intersection from his turn lane. Instead of making a full left turn, he angled toward the corner of a Shell service station twenty feet to my right. Two hedges on the property stopped his truck. He never hit his brakes. When his truck stopped, I could see the driver, slumped over the steering wheel, unconscious. I made two right turns to enter the Shell parking lot and dialed 911 for help. I learned after she was hospitalized that a diabetic episode had caused her to lose consciousness.
The first narrative in my mind prompted feelings of outrage. This selfish driver, whom I assumed to be male, was impatient and more important than the rest of us. The second narrative prompted urgent action and compassionate feelings. My first impulse was to stop a dangerous driver from killing others, and my second was to call for an ambulance to save the driver’s life.
Considering alternative to narratives is not always possible in real time, but you can learn to suspend certainty about any internal narrative through practice. It begins with observing more than the external event. You can expand your attention to include observation of your internal state. Practicing watching my own internal experience has shown me that I’m more prone to impatient reaction when I’ve missed a meal, gotten too little sleep, or been in a sour mood about something unrelated to the present event. I’m increasingly aware of my capacity for impatience, especially when others disrupt my calm state. Damn them!
Expanding your awareness about your impatience is the key to cultivating patience. A misguided use of meditation practice is trying to attain a constant state of calm. Good luck with that! Cultivating insight is more attainable. Enlightenment simply means turning up the lights. When you turn up the lights, you have a better chance to see what’s right in front of you and what’s rising inside of you.
I welcome your comments and personal experiences.