Saturday, April 11, 2015

Patience is a Virtue

 - in my meditation garden - 

Yesterday my wife told me that I needed to develop more patience in my life- of course she was right,  but then again this is something people have been telling me all my life. I must admit that I have always been a fairly impatient person. 

The Talmud as well as the Quran exhort believers to practice patience.  In the Christian tradition "patience"  is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and the Buddha teaches that "patience is the best prayer." And yet, if I am to be totally honest I have never quite understood why patience is such a celebrated virtue in the spiritual life.  

Upon reflection, I have come to believe that I just haven't ever really understood what "patience" really means. 

When I have thought about being patient I get an image of sitting in a doctor's office restlessly waiting for my appointment - perhaps idly browsing through some magazines, anxiously looking at my watch, anticipating what the doctor might say or do when he sees me, thinking about all the stuff I  need to accomplish after the appointment is over, and how much time I am wasting just sitting in a doctor's office looking at stupid magazines. Patience never seemed to be very helpful in situations like this- just get over it and move on.  

I have always thought of patience as something akin to "biting the bullet" - enduring the moment as you wait for the next thing to happen, the next appointment, the next event, the next big or exciting moment, maybe even waiting for the "other shoe to drop." 

I actually have come to believe that patience has nothing to do with waiting for the next thing to happen. Patience is a virtue because it is a discipline of mindfulness- a way of embracing the "now," awake in the present moment.

Priest and teacher, Henri Nouwen once wrote something that almost perfectly articulates the meaning of patience and why it is such an important virtue in the spiritual life:

A waiting  person is a patient person.
The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are
and live the situation to the full 
in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us in the moment. 

As is the case for many things, the world of nature here at my desert home has perhaps been my best teacher of the true meaning of patience. I spend most of my time time outdoors and have come to learn that almost everything in the natural world is beyond the control of my ego. 

For one thing, it is ridiculous to worry about what happened yesterday -  the nice day, the desert blossoming with spring flowers, an unexpected dust storm or maybe even a little earthquake. It's also impossible to figure out what it is going to happen in the future.  The weather out here is relatively if not totally unpredictable and now that the spring blooms have fallen off the trees, what beauty or perhaps even what danger will the desert yield on this day? The answer is: who knows? 

So for the most part I have come to learn to wait and see what surprises the moment brings - at least this is what I am trying to do. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: 

Adopt the pace of nature:
her secret is patience.

The world of nature always moves along at the speed of "now." That's the pace at which all life moves. The secret is to be patient in it all - to "live the situation to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us in the moment."

It's true: patience is a virtue!


  1. Planting seeds, which I did today, is a means of practicing patience and enjoying the wait at the same time. I planted radishes. So I don't have to wait to long. lol But nice fresh plump radishes are a good reward for even a little patience.