When I’m teaching mindfulness to groups, I talk a lot about acceptance – the ability to be in the present moment without judgement. The ability to be at peace with the way things are. To do this requires patience. Patience with oneself and patience with the experiences life throws our way.
Generally at one of these talks someone asks ‘But doesn’t that mean you’ll never change anything? That you’ll stop striving for goals if you just accept how life is?’. The short answer is no – it doesn’t.
There’s a delicate balance between acceptance and the desire to move forward in life. Maybe the key to understanding the contradictory nature of these forces is patience. And developing an understanding of what it really means to live a full and meaningful life.
The word ‘patient’ comes from the Latin verb ‘patior’ meaning ‘to suffer’. Whilst I’m not advocating the acceptance of suffering as the only key to a well-lived life, I’m inviting you to step back and look at your expectations of what it actually means to be fully alive.
Each of us will experience a few irritations in any given week (a train is cancelled, a washing machine breaks down, a friend cancels dinner, a colleague lets you down). These irritations are minor sources of suffering that we endure – partly as preparation for life’s greater sources of disappointment and pain (a major illness, the loss of a loved one, enduring a natural disaster).
Living life fully means developing an understanding that we can’t experience joy without experiencing sadness; that we can’t know real love without accepting that there will also be loss and pain and that we can’t control everything that happens in our lives. The only thing we can control is the way we respond.
Developing patience means having the ability to go with the flow at times while still making plans for the future and embracing those plans with openness and a sense of hope.
It means quietly acknowledging (and not wanting to instantly alleviate) feelings of sadness or frustration as they arise.
It means responding appropriately to life’s challenges – rather than reacting in an inflammatory way.
Here are some tips to help develop your patience:
- Give up complaining for three full weeks. Donate $2 to a ‘slip up’ jar and give the money to a charity of your choice.
- Ask yourself ‘What’s the lesson in this?’. Maybe it’s simply to help you develop your patience.
- Pay attention to where you feel yourself getting most easily irritated. Is it in traffic, in a slow-moving queue, with frustrating people? Begin by just observing that irritation with a friendly curiosity. What is it that bothers you most? Sometimes by stepping back and noticing, you begin to see that your response is more habit than genuine irritation.
- Go with the flow. Trust in the process of life. Stay open to unexpected surprises. Who knows where the gift will be.
- Start each day with at least a few minutes of meditation. It has a cumulative effect in developing patience.
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