If you're old enough to remember the mid-1980s, you might recall a popular film from that era called "The Karate Kid". It is a coming of age story in which a young man, Daniel, is tutored in karate by a wise mentor, Mr. Miyagi. Some of Miyagi's educational techniques seem unconventional to Daniel and he must cultivate a lot of patience and self-control during the process to learn the inner art of karate. Of course, these attributes serve him well in the end.
These days, our fast-paced world is wired more for reinforcing immediate gratification than patience. As we go through our days, we encounter urges that we would like to gratify - to get what we want, or to have things go our way. When things don't go as we hope, we may react in ways that aren't helpful or healthy. The reactions that stem from impatience can be significant sources of suffering.
Patience is a core attitude of mindful awareness. It is a willingness to have things unfold in their own time rather than focusing on our own way or timetable. It should not be confused with passivity. As Fulton J. Sheen said "Patience is not an absence of action; rather it is timing. It waits on the right time to act, for the right principles, and in the right way." Patience acknowledges the changing nature of our experience.
As we cultivate patience, we learn to master our urges and reactions, expanding our ability to respond to our lives in ways that match our values. Here are three ways to cultivate greater patience.
- Surf your urges — Urge surfing is a mindfulness practice that trains us to ride rather than resist our urges. Research has demonstrated that resisting emotional impulses can be counterproductive. Surfing an urge uses breath as a tool to accompany the rhythm of urges. If you've ever watched surfers, you know that they must carefully observe the ocean to be able to surf successfully. If they fight against the waves, they will exhaust themselves. If they observe patiently, and respond in harmony with the waves, they can ride them elegantly. Urges have a tendency to build, peak, and weaken, just like the rise and fall of waves or of breath. Observing your urges, while breathing mindfully, prevents you from automatically resisting or reacting to them. Urge surfing allows you to develop patience, distinguishing yourself from your urges and giving you more freedom to choose how you will respond.
- Explore expectations -When you notice yourself feeling impatient, it is a golden opportunity to deepen your self-awareness. Impatience often stems from unmet expectations. If you observe your thinking when you are feeling impatient, you may notice some version of a conversation that says: "This should not be this way!" If you do, ask yourself what you are saying to yourself about this situation. What are your expectations? Are your expectations realistic or in alignment with your values? As you notice your expectations without judgement, you can deepen your awareness about your preferences, and build greater patience and compassion with the human experience of having expectations which are not always met.
- Take a bird's-eye view - The desire to have our own way stems from an attachment to our own preferences and perspective. Patience requires that we be aware of our own experience, while also allowing that we are part of a larger picture. If you notice yourself feeling frustrated or impatient, take a few minutes to consciously shift your perspective. Take a few deep breaths and close your eyes if you wish. Ask yourself: What would this situation look like to someone observing from a distance? As you consider a bigger picture, notice any changes to the thoughts, emotions, or sensations that you experience.
Daniel, the young man in The Karate Kid, had definite ideas about what karate training should look like. In this scene, he must manage his impatience in order to move forward with his training:
What about you? Where would cultivating patience enhance your well-being? What experiences have helped you to build greater patience? Please share your experiences with us in the comments below.