Patience as an act of Self Compassion

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Of late, I’ve been noticing just how often I feel impatient – it often involves other people and them getting in my way in some shape or form, perhaps in the way that they’re driving or moving through the underground, or perhaps because they’re giving me way more detail than I want in telling me something…. and just as often, it is myself who is getting in the way of how I think things  should be, or how I think I should be….and then I get impatient with myself for being that way because it feels unkind and definitely unmindful!

And in that moment of impatience with myself, it’s so easy to slip into feeling that I ‘should’ have been more patient and that not being patient means that I’m not a very generous, kind or genuine person – after all, I’m a mindfulness teacher and here I am being so reactive!

So in my wonderings about patience and impatience, I’ve been really struck by how easy it is for the quality of patience to be seen as a measure of our worth – an instant barometer of whether we are essentially a good or bad, nice or mean person.

I think it’s very easy for patience to been seen as the ‘right’ thing to do, or the mature thing, the virtuous thing to do – as a ‘should’ – and therefore, when we don’t remember or can’t manage it – it becomes something that can leave us feeling ‘not good enough’.

I have been playing with turning that interpretation on its’ head and exploring patience not as the ‘right’ thing to do or as the kind thing to do for the other person but as an act of self kindness.

So what is patience?

The dictionary definition says: the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, difficulty or annoyance without getting angry or upset.

Apparently, the Buddha was so clear about the importance of this quality, he even outlined 3 particular areas to develop patience in relation to:

illness….the weather….other people!

And who doesn’t experience the vagaries of the weather and other people every single day?

So when I began to think about patience in this way, I realised that perhaps I wasn’t doing so bad -given the myriad opportunities for impatience each day and that the Buddha recognised that it’s something that takes practice and a clear intention to really cultivate.

I think we, or certainly I am realising that I, feel that patience is something I should just be able to do – we know it’s ‘good thing’ so why wouldn’t we just do it?  Isn’t it a bit like cleaning our teeth?  We’re told as children we should do it, that it’s important to be patient but I’m not sure that anyone really tells us how to do it! 

And this is where mindfulness can really help.  Holding a clear intention to be curious about our here and now experiences of impatience, to explore and investigate how it shows up for us, to notice how we typically react and behave in those moments can help us to step out of these painful habitual patterns.

How do we do this?

Impatience is like a storm in the body and mind – you can feel it – in the gut or the jaw or in an all over sense of agitation or restlessness and you can hear it in your thoughts, “For God’s sake will you….stop, move, get out of my way” etc….and many more expletives than I want to repeat here!

Impatience is a deeply unpleasant experience which is why we react so quickly –  in an attempt to get away from it.

But we can learn to bring the qualities of curiosity and compassion to it.  And when we do this, it can become an opportunity for connection with ourselves and every other human being alive.

We can begin to tune in and notice the bodily signs that tell us, alert us, to the storm that is blowing up….

and we can pause…..and breathe….

and name it….”ah, impatience arising”….

we can get really curious about the bodily sensations, watching them move around the body….

and we can notice what happens next….We can begin to recognise the impulse to react before we actually do or say something….

and we can notice when self-critical thoughts, self-judgements ride in on the storm…..

and most importantly we can learn to meet both the impatience and our self-judgement with compassion. 

We can do a self compassion break – acknowledging that this situation is driving me crazy and that I’m really struggling….reminding myself that everyone has moments like this, that getting wound up is part of being human and alive!  And we can find ways to soothe ourselves, with touch and words like “may I accept myself just as I am”.

Because impatience does not make us less human or less worthy of kindness, it is simply another inescapable part of being alive as a human being.

Impatience is just another moment that calls for our hearts to open – if we can pause and be with it without judgement, we can feel the vulnerability – the fear that often lies beneath it – and we can meet our vulnerability with some love.

And when we meet our own vulnerability, our own imperfections with compassion, we often open to the world around us with greater acceptance and compassion.

Usually we get impatient because others, the world or we are not conforming to our expectations of how we think things should be in that moment.

But mindfulness can help us step back from this narrow way of relating to the moment – and then, if we choose, our moments of impatience can be a calling to something much deeper, much more humane….

and we can take a breath, and remind ourselves that the cashier and customer ahead of us who are chatting away holding us up, are 2 more people who face challenges and struggles just like us, and want to be happy and free from suffering just like us….

And perhaps we can remember that, while in your world you are the subject and that other person is the object – because we tend to see ourselves as the centre of the universe.  We are the constant, the star of the show and everyone else is a bit part –  but in their life, you’re just a bit part!  Sometimes when we remember this, other’s apparent lack of consideration becomes a little more understandable.

And when we have steadied ourselves in our moment of impatience by naming it, exploring the bodily sensations and soothing ourselves, we are also more likely to be able to remember that every person we encounter is a product of so many conditions – genes, family, life experiences, culture – that they had no control over and that every single person is made up of strengths and weaknesses….we are all flawed jewels…..both marvellous and trying to ourselves and each other!

So I invite you  not to strive to be more patient but to be more mindful and self-compassionate in your moments of impatience – because I believe it is from these qualities of open heartedness that patience flowers.

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