Three Steps To Being More Patient

Ahhhh, patience. We know it’s important, and we think we might have it, in theory. But, then, we’re idling behind some idiot for at least 1.8 seconds after the light changes from red to green or the new barista at Starbucks is possibly foaming our latte by hand, when we realize: OK. Maybe we could use some work.

We could; we all could.

When I feel this way, usually evidenced by a complete and utter lack of patience with myself most of all — Write faster! Make the decision! Snap out of this mood! Dive into that project! Do it now, now, now — I know it’s time to meditate. I like to visit the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center via bicycle, early in the morning, preferably with the sun rising just-so over the Mass Ave. bridge. However, these elements are ideal, not essential. The only requirement for meditation is to spend time paying attention, on purpose, without judgment. You can meditate seated, standing, walking mindfully, or lying down. You can do it in a class with others, at home by yourself, or if you’d like to get Suessian about it: on a train, on a plane, in a tree, or out at sea. You can meditate anytime, anywhere. Among myriad benefits, this skill helps cultivate patience.

Ditto dealing with difficult people and situations. Buddha is as Buddha Does, by local author and meditation teacher Lama Surya Das, devotes a chapter to patience, which a friend coincidentally found herself reading (and practicing) on a cross-country flight beside a screaming toddler. With experiences that trigger impatience, Das offers the following three steps:

  1. Accept it as a given that your impatience is the problem and that you need to take at least one step toward being more patient.
  2. Ask “Who is this person? How can I identify with him/her? Why is he/she deserving of my patience?”
  3. Decide on — and commit to — at least one specific step you can take toward this person to demonstrate your active patience.

Most importantly, when you find that this practice is hard — maybe you fail, growl at a fellow commuter, snip at the barista, say something wretched to someone you love — try not to let the ire shorten your fuse with yourself once again. Take a deep breath. Refocus your intention. Meditate.

I’ll be right there with you, preferably in the morning, via bicycle, with the sun rising over the Mass Ave. bridge. But sometimes not. See, that’s the thing about patience: choosing the circumstances under which we practice is never the point. It’s choosing how we respond to circumstances as they arise. In other words, we aim to practice perfect patience in an imperfect environment: one breath, barista, and screaming baby at a time.


Crossposted at OmGal.