What does it mean to be patient with ourselves, others, and life? How do we practice patience? Is Mindfulness practice for everyone? These are a few of the questions and ideas I will explore in this podcast episode. I hope you enjoy this topic and I hope some of this information may be beneficial to you in your day to day lives.
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Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 76. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. Today, I’m talking about patience, patience with ourselves, others and life. As always, keep in mind, the Dalai Lama’s advice. Do not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are.
I want to share a quick note before jumping into the topic. That’s this question of who is mindfulness for? I recently returned from teaching a mindfulness workshop in a corporate setting in Canada. One of the regular podcast listener, John, shout out to you, John if you’re listening to this episode, reached out to me and ultimately arranged it so that I had the opportunity to go teach mindfulness workshop at the company where he works in Toronto in Canada. It was a really neat experience to be able to go out there and to share these ideas and concepts in a setting that pertains to a corporate setting.
Ultimately, my favorite part of the whole thing was just meeting John in general. Meeting him and his family, meeting him in person, and kind of developing that friendship and realizing … We were sitting on the back-patio furniture visiting one of the days after the workshop and it was just fun to think of every single event that has taken place in my life and in his life that led to that moment to be there sitting like we were friends, like we’ve known each other this whole time. It was just a really neat experience and I love moments like that, opportunities like that to be able to interact with somebody. To be able to have, as John would say, to have worlds collide. It’s a really cool experience.
But anyway, during that week in Toronto, it’s always interesting to be able to teach mindfulness to people who sign up for a mindfulness workshop, is one thing. Because everyone who’s there is wanting to learn these concepts. That’s why they’re there. But when you teach it in another setting, like in a corporate setting where it’s presented as maybe one of multiple options during the workshop, you may just sign up because it was the, I don’t know, could have been the least boring of the options presented to you.
Sure enough, during this workshop, there were people who were very fascinated with the topic. And there were others who were in the workshop who were just kind of there probably thinking, “What is all this stuff and what is this? Why does any of this matter to me?” At one point and one of the workshops, I brought this up and I wanted to highlight it here, which is the fact that who is mindfulness for? It’s not for everyone. That’s that’s the simple truth. I share it because I gain a significant amount of joy and contentment from my practice, from mindfulness practice, and others do too. When I share it tonight and I share these concepts, a lot of people benefit from it.
It should go without saying that none of this has ever been preached as, “Hey, you need this. You need mindfulness in your life.” Some people do, but this isn’t something that you can compel on to someone, the practice of being mindful. I like to equate this to my other hobby, because I have two main hobbies or practices. One of them is practicing mindfulness, and that’s why I have a podcast, I’ve written some books, and I’m involved in this space because I enjoy it. The other one is paragliding. I spend a lot of time flying and paramotoring. I recognize that it’s not for everyone.
If someone were to say, “Hey, this hobby you have that brings you so much joy, I guess I need to get into it.” I would say, “Well, are you afraid of heights?” And if they say yes, then I’d say, “Well, then don’t do it. Why on earth would you get into this hobby, if you’re afraid of heights?” Because I understand that it’s not for everyone. I think mindfulness is the same. It’s not for everyone. It can absolutely benefit everyone who practices it. Anyone who practices can benefit from it. But that doesn’t mean that everyone has to do it. In the same way that I would say, if you’re afraid of heights, why would you ever get into paragliding? I would say if you’re not interested in being more mindful in your life, why on earth would you want to get into this practice?
It should never be forced onto others. One of the books that I really enjoyed on Buddhism by Gyomay Kubose, he wisely said, “Never preach Buddhism.” This was emphasized through his son who taught the lay ministry program that I did. The two-year program. But he always emphasized that. Don’t preach Buddhism. This is why, because it’s not for everyone. Why would you preach something, when … What is there that is truly applicable to anyone? I would say never preach mindfulness. Maybe never preach anything. I never preached paragliding to anyone.
I share the joy that I get in the sport, and sometimes people will say, “Hey, I want to learn to do that. How can I learn? Where do I go?” And they get into the sport and then later they’re like, “Man, this is the coolest hobby I’ve ever had. Thanks for getting me into the sport.” I’ve had the same thing happened with mindfulness where I’m sharing what I enjoy and what’s worked for me, and others will benefit from it and they’ll email me and say, “I’m so glad that you that you started this podcast or that you shared this or that topic, because it’s had such a profound impact on me in my life and the circumstances that I’m in.” I think that’s wonderful and it’s great. But that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.
Just keep that in mind. I’m not preaching about patience in this podcast episode, even though the topic is on patience. Again, this podcast episode is not implying that you need to be more patient with yourself, with others and with life in general. No, instead, this topic is it’s as all the topics, it’s meant to be an invitation to be more aware about ourselves and to understand ourselves a little bit more. With that caveat, with that intro, let’s jump into the topic.
First, I want to talk a little bit about patience. What is it? If you Google it, according to Google, patience has the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. I think that starts to define it. But to really understand that, I think we need to do a little bit more digging, a little more research. So, other definitions. The Merriam Webster dictionary’s definition is remaining steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity. I think that’s getting closer to the mark with how I understand patience in the context of mindfulness practice. Because couldn’t that be the very definition of meditation as a practice? Could it be that meditation is the heart of practicing patience? It’s remaining steadfast despite difficulty.
Now think about sitting meditation. You sit there and no matter how good you are or how long you’ve been practicing it, if you sit there long enough, at some point, you experience difficulty. Your legs start to fall asleep, your lower back starts to hurt, you may start thinking about all the millions of other things that you could be doing instead of sitting here. All these things start to arise. This is the practice of well, now that these feelings or thoughts and emotions are rising, what do I do with that? Do I remain steadfast in my intent to sit with it? Or, do I succumb to the discomfort and say, “Well, I don’t want to be uncomfortable, so I’m going to get up and be done with this.”
In some ways, I think that’s a huge benefit of practicing sitting meditation. Although I will elaborate on that a little bit more further in the discussion here. The Oxford Dictionary defines patience as being able to accept or tolerate delays, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious. I actually like that one even more. If you think of patience as the art of not being angry when difficulties arise, I don’t think that quite hits it. Because you can be angry and sit there and not act on that anger. And are you really being patient or are you just putting on the image of being patient? This Oxford dictionary’s definition of it makes it a little bit more difficult, because it’s saying without becoming annoyed or anxious. Can I sit here with this emotion or with this difficulty in my life, and not be annoyed? I can’t fake that right? If I’m annoyed, I’m annoyed. Sure, I may not act on the feeling of being annoyed, but I cannot fake whether or not I’m annoyed. That gives us something to work with.
I want to share a thought that comes from Pema Chödrön from the book that I’ve been sharing little quotes from on our Facebook page. This is one that I shared earlier this week, where she says patience is the antidote. And quoting, Pema says, “Patience is the antidote to anger, a way to learn to love and care for whatever we meet on the path. By patience, we do not mean endurance, as in grin and bear it. In any situation, instead of reacting suddenly, we could chew it, smell it, look at it, and open ourselves to seeing what’s there. The opposite of patience is aggression, the desire to jump and move to push against our lives to try to fill up space. The journey of patience involves relaxing, opening to what’s happening, experiencing a sense of wonder.”
With that in mind, some of the additional thoughts I would add to that quote, I love that she clarifies that patience does not mean endurance or grin and bear it. I think that endurance stuff, it’s often a form of habitual reactivity. And we need to be patient with the discomfort that arises from the difficulties that we deal with in life and with ourselves and with other people. So, I know for me in my own personal life, I have the tendency to avoid conflict. I’ve never enjoyed it, I’ve always been uncomfortable with conflict. So, it’s easy for me to just kind of sit it out, instead of confronting a situation that may cause confrontation to arise. I find myself in during or grinning and bearing it often when I’m dealing with a difficult experience, simply because I’m not patient enough to skillfully work with whatever discomfort arises in me regarding that situation.
I think this can be common with our interactions with people. Relationships that we’re in with partners and spouses or siblings or the neighbor. Something needs to be brought up, but I won’t bring it up because I’m not comfortable with how confrontation makes me feel. So, my habitual reactivity is non-confrontation. So, we don’t want to grin and bear it when it comes to the important things in life. Instead, we can patiently work with these difficulties. Understanding them, opening up to the feelings that arise in the situation. Ultimately, this allows us to be more skillful with how we deal with it.
This way of thinking for me in my own life was a radical shift when I realized that my form of habitual reactivity is often to not react. That is my reaction, is to not react. I’m not going to say this, I’m not going to bring that up because I don’t want this to make you uncomfortable and things of that nature. I always thought, “Well, that’s just because I’m patient,” but it’s not. It was actually the opposite. It’s I’m not patient enough to deal with the discomfort that this is going to cause, so my form of habitual reactivity is to not react and now I don’t have to deal with it. That’s not being patient and that’s what is being highlighted in this podcast episode, and in that quote that I just shared by Pema. What if we flip the script and realize patients might not be what I think it is?
Often, the act of grinning and bearing it is indeed the opposite of patience. Patience and difficulties, what if we learned to start moving towards the difficulties with the definition of being steadfast despite the difficulties? I really like that and I kind of want to play off of that for a minute. Because we seem to have this idea that something is wrong with us, something is wrong with other people, something is wrong with life in general. And often with ourselves, it’s that I’m not the right weight, or I’m not the right height, or my skin is not the right complexion, or my personality is not ideal. I don’t have the level of patience or kindness that I should have.
In this way, we’re kind of presented with this weird idea that something’s wrong with us. There’s a version of me that could be better. We think this way about other people too, right? And we think about life this way. Life is not right, because it’s too noisy, or it’s too quiet, or it’s too hot, or too cold, or too windy, or not windy enough. We’re always comparing the way things are to the way we think things should be. So, we find ourselves continually trying to reach the right way. The right configuration for life or for ourselves or for others. That configuration is the one that will finally make everything better or at least more bearable.
What we’re learning through Buddhist practices, through Buddhist teachings, and through mindfulness, is that we’re learning about minimizing this constant comparison of how things are in the present moment, to how we think things should be. We do that by just learning to sit with how things are. I think the habitual tendency is to make these comparisons. Again, not that it’s wrong to make these comparisons. I want to emphasize this. I’ve mentioned it before in previous podcast episodes, but our ability to compare how things are and to aspire for things to be better is what’s brought about incredible things in life. Technology and inventions and all these things arise because of this. So, it’s not that this is a bad thing.
But I think it’s important to understand that this is a natural tendency that we have at least as humans, which brings about a lot of progress. But we’re also going to pay the price for it. Because it makes it so that in some ways, we’re really never content. We’re never happy because we’re always comparing. Again, this mindfulness practice is not about eliminating that, it’s not about eliminating the thought of how things could be. It’s more about focusing and practicing increasing the awareness of how things are right now in the present moment without the judgment and without the comparison. This implies that it’s more of an invitation to move towards the difficulties that we face in our lives rather than running away from them, because we’re trying to understand these things more.
This takes a lot of practice. That’s why it’s called mindfulness practice. To sit with the discomfort of running towards the difficulties and to remain steadfast despite the difficulty. I think it’s important to understand that this path that we’re on, practicing mindfulness, is the goal of mindfulness. The path itself is the goal. There’s no final destination where, “Oh, I finally conquered it and I’m done. I did it. I’m mindful now, from now on and forever.” It doesn’t work that way. We’re always on the path, and the path is always changing. Again, this is why I use the analogy of Tetris so often. You never finish the game of Tetris. It’s not like you can rest between levels and say, “Okay, I did it. I completed this level and I am moving on to the next one.” The game doesn’t work that way. The nature of the game is it goes on and on and on and on.
And so it is with our lives, isn’t it? Our lives, the lives of others, life in general, it’s about learning to keep going and seeing that the journey itself is the goal. I think when we start to see life this way, we begin to understand that everything that occurs along the path, along that journey is an invitation for us. It’s an invitation to wake up, to learn, to grow, to change, to feel alive. And our difficult emotions and our conflicting thoughts and our painful experiences in life, well, those are all part of the journey too. They’re all part of the Tetris pieces.
So, what can this all start to look like? I want to break it up into three key areas like the title of the podcast says. First, patience towards others. What can that look like? I want you to try to visualize this in your own life. What would it look like? What would it feel like to truly accept others without becoming annoyed about how they are now. like comparing them to how we think they should be? What would that feel like? I understand as a parent, that my kids now are not who they were a year or two ago. And they’re certainly not who they will be when they are teenagers or adults. I try to see them in this light, this understanding that I’m always given them the flexibility of who they’re going to be, knowing that they’re constantly changing. And the version of them that I have in my life right now is impermanent.
I try to do this with adults too. I try to understand that the adults in my life, my friends and siblings and parents and co-workers and everyone that I interact with, they’re not the same people that they’re going to be a year from now or two years from now. Sure, some of them may change minimally, some of them may change drastically going through completely life altering experiences, changes of political views, changes in their religious views. There can be some pretty drastic changes and people’s lives, and where it’s very clear to see this is not the same person as before.
I find it helpful to view people in that present moment with that lens of permission to change, because I understand that they’re always changing and I don’t know how they’re going to change or how much they’ll change, but I know that change is inevitable. I detect often in myself the feeling of wanting others to understand me and to validate my way of understanding the world, my world views. I recognize that that’s an impossible task. It simply cannot be achieved. It’s helpful for me to know that, because I try to remind myself to be patient with how others perceive me because they’re perceiving me through their unfiltered lens. And that’s helpful to know.
Patience toward life in general. Again, what would it look like or feel like to be able to accept life just as it is? To really look around and start to see the Tetris pieces that pop up and recognize the discomfort that certain pieces bring to our lives, and then to be able to remain steadfast despite the difficult emotions that arise with some of those pieces. Again, that’s the very definition of patience. When it comes to life, remember, just like Pema said, we don’t have to grin and bear it. We can try to be skillful to do what we can, where we can, when we can to make things better for ourselves and for others, but it takes a lot of practice and it takes skill to do that.
To me, again, this is the invitation that’s constantly being echoed here to become a better whatever you already are. I think it’s helpful to remember in life, difficulties arise. It’s a part of the journey and we can try to learn to handle these difficulties with as much skill as possible, while at the same time knowing that sometimes life is going to feel like it’s not okay. Sometimes it takes patience to recognize that it’s okay to feel that it’s not okay. We don’t practice this with the intent of, “Oh, I’m going to accept everything as it is and nothing will ever bother me.” That’s not how it works. The very nature of reality as things change, and when they do, these difficulties arise, and when they do, I don’t like how it feels to experience it and I can stop there. I can just sit with the discomfort, which to me is the very practice of patience rather than getting caught up in the feeling that I have about the discomfort.
This is an unpleasant feeling and I don’t like that I’m feeling what I’m feeling. I can work with that. But if I’m just feeling the discomfort of the situation, I may not be able to deal with that. That’s just how I feel. And that’s what we’re practicing with mindfulness. You’re learning to sit with whatever arises, whether it’s pleasant or unpleasant, whether it feels good or doesn’t feel good. You just sit with it and you observe it. In that way, you’re kind of learning to be friend yourself. To me, that’s where the patience toward yourself fits in. This is the core of what a lot of these practices and teachings are about, developing a sense of patience towards the person that I think often we’re least patient with, and that’s ourselves.
What would it feel like to be able to truly accept ourselves just the way that we are without getting caught up in the moral judgment that the present version of me is somehow superior or inferior to a past or a future version of myself? The thought that perhaps a more physically fit version of me in the future, somehow that’s a better me than this me, or a more mindful me. If I practice this mindfulness long enough and hard enough, I’ll one day be mindful, and that me is actually better than this me right now that still gets angry and loses my temper. Again, this is an act of aggression that we inflict on ourselves towards ourselves.
I think it’s helpful at this point to remember acceptance is not the same thing as resignation. This is not about resigning to the fact that oh this is how I am and I’ll never be fit or I guess I’ll never be kind enough or mindfulness or smart enough or something like that. This is about remembering that we’re constantly changing, and this allows us to feel the invitation that we can try to become more introspective and understand that about ourselves, and to more skillfully navigate that constant change that we’re undergoing. It’s like we’re this constant continual process of becoming, but we never actually become something. We do, but in the context of impermanence, it happens now and then it’s gone again, because you’re always becoming something new, something different. And each version of ourselves changes as we learn more, as we experience certain events in life, as we age, in a physical way.
I think age is a great way to visualize this, because you never finish. As long as you’re alive, you’re aging. That’s the whole point. But you can just pause it and be like, “Okay, I’ve aged to this point and this is where I want to stay.” And yet we act that way. We wish we could stay in our prime forever, but we can’t. You get there and then you keep going. And then you get there to where that is, and you keep going, and you keep going. Just like Tetris, it goes and goes and goes until the game is over. I think it’s helpful to keep that in mind that we’re always changing, always learning, adapting to the game of Tetris with each new piece that shows up. That is the practice. That’s the practice of understanding that the journey of change is the goal. We never reach the final configuration where we say, “Okay, we’re done, I don’t need a change anymore.” That’s the practice. Adapting, and changing, and learning and unlearning, and going with the flow. Going with the flow of the game.
That’s the concept I wanted to share. I hope you’ll take some time to really think about these concepts, to ask yourself, “Am I patient with others? Am I patient with life?” Perhaps the most important one of all, “Am I patient with myself? Could I be more patient with myself and how would I practice that?” I think patience with ourselves is a great place to start with a practice. The more patient I am with myself and with the thoughts and feelings and emotions that arise in me, the more skilled I become with practicing patience towards others and towards life. And that’s mindfulness practice, is exactly that. It’s the practice that you practice, practice, practice, but you never get there. Because the practice itself is the goal.
So, keep that in mind as for those of you who do practice mindfulness, for those of you who do like to sit in meditation. Meditating and sitting there is that practice. It’s not like, “I’m going to sit here until I can finally say, I am super comfortable meditating.” I don’t know. If you’re like me, and you’ve been practicing, I’ve been practicing for 10 years. It’s not like suddenly, oh, this is easy. I could just sit here. It’s the same battle every time. I’m sitting here, and I don’t want to sit here. I’m feeling this, and I don’t want to feel this. I want to feel that. But what I’m becoming better at is just sitting with that. Sitting with that feeling of not wanting to feel what I’m feeling. What does that like? What happens when you befriend whatever arises?
Oftentimes, what arises is discomfort or some form of difficulty, and you allow to be there. The same way that you would, if it was something pleasant that arises. A pleasant thought or a pleasant feeling, you let it sit there too.
That’s what I wanted to share, and that’s what I have for this topic. If you want to learn more about general Buddhist concepts and teachings, you can always check out my book No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners: 60 Questions and answers around Buddhist history and concepts and teachings and practices. You can learn about that by visiting everydaybuddhism.com.
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