Patience: the spiritual path to personal growth

Patience: the spiritual path to personal growth
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MICHAEL LEWIN explores the expression of patience in Nature, and how easy it is to learn lessons from the natural world around us.


Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ, once wrote about a chrysalis that he came across nestled in an olive tree. The infant butterfly, within its cocoon, was just starting to break through to greet a new life when Kazantzakis, anxious to shorten the natural process, breathed intensely on it. The butterfly eventually emerged, but because it was prematurely induced, its wings were insufficiently formed. Unable to take flight, the butterfly soon died. This intervention, in nature’s slow unfolding of a life, gave Kazantzakis a stirring lesson to reflect upon. If he had let nature take its own course, if he had been more mindful and patient, the small butterfly would have felt the expression of life through its wings, but because Kazantzakis impatiently intervened in a process that he did not fully understand, he had unintentionally denied this butterfly a life.

Impatience seems to enter into all our lives. Sometimes it surfaces in a small act of unconscious intervention, such as Kazantzakis’; at other times it changes form into an explosive, blind rage, where people get physically and emotionally hurt. But in whatever way it finds expression, in whatever way it manifests itself, it’s all impatience, it’s all about letting our frustration get the better of us.



Responding to situations in a considered,
reflective manner brings out the best in us,
and reacting to situations in a hasty
“let’s get it over with” approach
invariably brings out the worst in us.



WHY HURRY?


Impatience seems to be a growing modern malaise that we all have to contend with in our lives, either as perpetrators or recipients. I have often felt in myself, and seen in others, the welling up of irritation, annoyance and frustration that can change people’s personalities in an instant. The feeling of exasperation that keeps us away from being present in the moment, calm and attentive to the unfolding of life as it is, and not as we want it to be.

Responding to situations in a considered, reflective manner brings out the best in us, and reacting to situations in a hasty “let’s get it over with” approach invariably brings out the worst in us. Impatience rarely gets us the results we want. It just forces its way forward with an “I know best” attitude that tangles us up in irritation and disappointment.

My impatience is something that I constantly work with in order to cultivate a more relaxed state of mind, a more relaxed state of being, where I’m fully attending, fully accepting of the present, fully engaged with the now. But it isn’t easy. Whether I’m waiting for the kettle to boil on the gas ring, or delayed in traffic congestion, if I’m preoccupied with the thought that I’m far too busy to be wasting time, that I should be elsewhere, then my impatience is winning.

Even when I’m writing, I can sometimes feel the company of impatience gnawing away in the background, pressurizing me to quickly form appropriate sentences and paragraphs, to move the writing along, to reach out for closure. But this rather forceful way of operating only stifles creative flow, which has its own rhythm to effectively deliver what is needed. My only obligation is to listen attentively to this rhythm, place myself within its presence, and patiently work along side it. I have to constantly remind myself that the writing is in charge, not me. All I really have to do is attend, with a concentrated but relaxed mind, and wait.

Impatience can be a sign of something much deeper, not just a distracting mind that keeps us away from the present, but an anxious and sometimes neurotic one as well. Impatience cannot change anything for the better; it only makes us feel worse. It tries to rush us swiftly into the next moment without due regard for experiencing the present one.

Giving up our sense of urgency and frustration – “I want it now” – is the road to relaxed awareness that can offer us so much in terms of appreciating what life, in all its infinite richness, can offer. On the contrary, quick fix, quick solutions, quick results, with no intervening incubation period for reflection, are increasingly gaining a strong foothold in our culture and closing down our potential for deeper, fuller possibilities.

The Greek origin of the word patience is pathos – suffering.


THE SEASONALITY OF LIFE


I vividly recall, at the age of nine or ten, my class taking hyacinth bulbs to school on the instruction of our teacher. The bulbs were placed on the tops of narrow-necked glass jars, full of water, and then placed on a shelf. The class was told to wait until shoots started to appear. Days came and went, but there were no signs of any shoots. Boredom quickly set in as we waited and waited. Finally, when we all had started to really lose interest in this process of “looking and not seeing,” we suddenly started seeing.

Slowly at first, but very much visible, were small, white tendrils growing out of the base of the bulbs, stretching out in order to reach the water. In time the tendrils grew so long that they curled around the base of the jars in loops. Top growth also came, giving birth to full, scented blossoms that make me heady even today as I continue to grow hyacinth bulbs.

Through my experience at school I learnt a valuable lesson about patience and letting nature unfold in its own time. Much later I realized that the blooms of the hyacinths were in the bulbs all the time, just waiting to find expression.

Spring comes and the grass grows by itself.
—The Zenrin

In our technological, postmodernist world, where we even get agitated over the response time of the fastest computers, we run the risk of missing out on a valuable lesson about waiting. In the natural world there is no rushing. The sun never tells the moon to hurry up to complete its cycle, because it’s busy and needs extra time to do so many things. It just follows its natural path of slow awakening into the new morning according to the set laws of nature.

Are we any different? It is in nature that we must look for guidance, not in technology. Aren’t we all sentient beings, flesh of nature, instead of printed circuit boards?


PATIENCE FOR PEOPLE


People may irritate and aggravate us, but how do we respond to those self-generated feelings? By allowing a sense of bitterness and anger to develop, we are the ones who really suffer. If we could accept with an attitude of equanimity, where we are prepared to offer a tolerant space for others (as we seem to make available for ourselves), we may avoid slipping into an entrapment of corrosive feelings that cause us untold damage, psychologically speaking.

Perhaps we do not have such an all embracing, clear, informed perspective on things as we may think we do.
Perhaps we are prone to misinterpreting situations and individuals.
Perhaps we are, at times, too insensitive to other people’s feelings, too judgmental.
Perhaps we need to relax more around certain issues.

Opening up, and expanding an inner landscape on which we can accommodate the faults of others and our own faults, is important for our spiritual growth. But we do need to recognize where there are serious problems to overcome. Patience, per se, cannot heal them. It just provides the necessary space in which compassion and forgiveness can hopefully surface, so that the healing can take place.



Opening up, and expanding an inner landscape
on which we can accommodate the faults
of others and our own faults,
is important for our spiritual growth.
But we do need to recognize where
there are serious problems to overcome.



LISTENING


On the road to developing patience for others, as well as ourselves, we automatically begin to awaken a listening within us that can uncover and reveal deeper truths. A listening that pays attention to not only what is said but also what is not said. A listening that absorbs verbal communication as well as non-verbal communication, into a deeper understanding. People then start feeling comfortable and relaxed with us, may be for the first time, because a ground has been prepared for them to be themselves. Too often we keep other individuals at a distance from ourselves, on the periphery of our lives, and consequently we deny ourselves the opportunity to know them better. And without fully engaging with others, without fully listening to them, how can we claim to be fully alive?

Listening is the oldest and perhaps
the most powerful tool of healing.
It is often through the quality of our listening
and not the wisdom of our words
that we are able to affect the most profound
changes in the people around us.
When we listen we offer sanctuary for the
homeless parts within the other person.
That which has been denied, unloved,
devalued by themselves and others.
That which is hidden.

When you listen generously to people,
they can hear the truth in themselves
often for the first time.

—Rachel Naomi Remen


NO ACTION


The pace of modern life can push us all over the place, insisting that agendas are prepared, decisions are made, actions are taken, and we may get lost amongst it all. We may get confused and frustrated about our responses.

In these moments, never be afraid to pull back and wait a while, allowing an acceptance to form around the process of letting go. Good, well-understood decisions can never really flow from pressurized feelings, self-imposed or otherwise. It can only flourish when we are relaxed and reflective, drawing on our inner wisdom to arrive at the best judgments.

Pavlovian, knee-jerk responses (which we all tend to make at times) run the risk of working against us, of bypassing our deeper thought processing, and throwing us into anxiety and regret. Waiting does not mean doing nothing. It means reflecting, relaxing and seeing what develops. Perhaps things can work out fine without our interference, without our intervention, if we make the decision not to make a decision!

Do you have the patience to wait until
the mud settles and the water is clear?

Can you remain un-moving until
the right action arises by itself?

—Lao Tzu

Perhaps we should be patient and leave things alone. Learn from the lessons of nature, of which we are all an integral part, and let everything unfold as it should. Nature has its own time, but it’s not the time of ticking clocks and flashing digital readouts. It’s not the time of busy schedules and set agendas. It’s the time of seasonality, where everything has its own internal breath of life, which we have no right to influence or change because we haven’t the patience to stay present and wait.



Perhaps we should be patient
and leave things alone.
Learn from the lessons of nature,
of which we are all an integral part,
and let everything unfold as it should.
Nature has its own time, but it’s not the time
of ticking clocks and flashing digital readouts.



Patience is deeply embedded in nature, and we do need to honor this. If Kazantzakis had shown more patience, and not interfered with the natural cycle of life, there might have been 10,000 more butterflies flourishing in this world of ours. So next time that you feel called to respond in a given situation, think deeply about the possible outcomes that might develop, and act mindfully, act patiently, for all our sakes.

Journey long. Journey well.


Republished with permission from the author, whose blog is at http://www.michaellewin.org/articles/personalgrowth/patience-the-spiritual-path-to-personal-growth/



Article by MICHAEL LEWIN


Michael Lewin

About Michael Lewin

Michael has been involved in a number of Buddhist organizations over the years, has served as a Trustee of the Buddhist Hospice Trust been a Committee Member of the Lifestyle Movement, which is dedicated to simple, green living and was a Member of the Gandhi Foundation. A few years ago he spent two years living in a Franciscan Friary, engaging his time with meditation, walking, yoga and deepening his writing practice. He has spent the last 25 years teaching and supporting a variety of different groups, e.g. young offenders, young unemployed people, children at risk, children with special needs, adults with learning difficulties and adults with mental health needs.


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