Another aspect of patience that bears considering is being patient with oneself. It is likely that if we are impatient with ourselves we are impatient with others. Perhaps the key to having patience with others is to start with ourselves.
After decades of meditation practice, I find that my own imperfections, though somewhat reduced, are more visible than ever. I see with more clarity each time I lose patience with other people, going from zero to one hundred (figuratively) in a heartbeat.
Impatience is a member of the dosa family of impulses or patterns of behavior, along with hatred, resentment, anger, fear, and resistance. This is one of the three unwholesome roots that cause trouble for everyone except the fully awakened. For some, perhaps most of us, this is the biggest obstacle to freedom. For others, anger and hatred are muted, but greed is dominant. And for yet others, delusion – the mistaken idea that we know what’s happening – leads the way. All of us carry some portion of all three unwholesome roots, but it may be most productive for each of us to work on the one that creates the most problems for us. Patience will be useful in understanding and uprooting all three unwholesome roots in our hearts.
There are two main areas where we can develop patience with ourselves: our bodies and our minds. In both cases, we can bring the same compassion to ourselves that we would show to any friend who is struggling.
As we age, if we are sick, or if we carry the burden of chronic illness or disability, we have an opportunity to practice patient endurance. When we’re young and healthy, we may feel immortal; we’re strong and beautiful (enough) and what could possibly go wrong? The first wrinkles and grey hair or hair loss, remind us that everything that is born decays. Eventually we are forced to acknowledge our mortality, and facing this reality can elicit denial or panic. As with any dukkha, meeting it head-on is the only way to know its nature, and this may take compassionate persistence.
Our minds can be even harder to have patience with. We have some thoughts and feelings that we wish we didn’t have. Sometimes we try to push them aside or ignore them, but until we face our unwanted thoughts, they will keep on coming back like a whack-a-mole game.
When anger or resentment or irritation arises in the mind, rather than directing our frustration at others, we can make the attitudinal U-turn to examine the phenomenon precisely as it is. We can observe the fact: “irritation is arising”. It may seem very difficult to make the switch, but feelings and thoughts change so quickly that if we fully engage with what is happening, we will be able to watch it metamorphose into something else. Investigating in this way will eventually expose our dark sides to enough light to cause them to wither. In this way, we replace unwholesome habits with wisdom.