The Grace of Patience
An Excerpt from One-Minute Mindfulness by Donald Altman
Patience makes a mockery of expectations. It is
the freedom to live at our own pace and in our own
way. Patience is also an extraordinary grace that
we extend to others in the most ordinary of
circumstances. The patience we display in each
minute makes the powerful statement that we are
not judging others or ourselves harshly. With
patience, we transcend all the annoying things
life is known for.
Who or what has annoyed, irritated, or frustrated
you today? Some studies indicate that as much as
10 percent of the population is irritated on a
daily basis. This level of chronic annoyance may
not be toxic or seriously harm others, but it can
push people away and creates an atmosphere for
negative emotions to escalate.
One of my favorite stories about annoyance involves
the nineteenth-century mystic and teacher Gurdjieff,
who attracted seekers to his training center outside
Paris. Gurdjieff employed a crusty caretaker, who
always managed to upset the students. One day they
pulled such a nasty practical joke on the caretaker
that he quit his job. When Gurdjieff heard of this,
he located the man and not only begged him to return
but also met his demands. When the students were
called to a meeting and learned about the caretaker's
return, they expressed dismay. But Gurdjieff explained
that the caretaker was one of his finest teachers,
someone who pushed the students' buttons and forced
them to look inward at their anger and disturbance.
One-minute mindfulness gives us the option to cool
down and to extend the grace of patience to ourselves
and others in that immediate moment when we need
it most. Patience is a form of forbearance, a value
so important that it is among one of Buddhism's
perfections on the path to enlightened living. Forbearance
means we don't have to mindlessly react to annoyances
and criticisms. It gives us the freedom to respond in
a more spacious way. The Buddha outlined a one-minute
mindfulness approach to patience when he explained
to one of his monks, "There are profit and loss, slander
and honor, praise and blame, pain and pleasure in this
world; the Enlightened One is not controlled by these
external things; they will cease as quickly as they come."
In that first minute that follows an annoyance, remind
yourself that the cause of your upset is impermanent.
Think about the nature of what usually pushes you to
the edge. Is the offending person, comment, or incident
really a reflection of you? Does the annoyance go on
and on, or does it stop at some point? If in that first
minute you don't respond in your typical way, what will happen?
Forbearance and patience are necessary in all relationships
to smooth over the little and bigger differences. Patience
is not about someone walking all over you; it is a
conscious decision to let things go. After all, we
humans are subject to frailty. With one-minute patience
in your corner, you can practice not taking the little
things personally and use that experience to help you
through the bigger upsets.
For the next sixty seconds, visualize yourself in
a difficult situation such as an argument. See yourself
holding silence in response to the situation. While
you see yourself this way, set the intention not to
complain when your expectations are not met in various
situations, such as when you're waiting in line,
you're stuck in traffic, or someone criticizes you.
Visualize yourself refraining from reacting negatively.
The next time an upsetting event occurs, you will be
ready to use what you have been mentally rehearsing.
As you refrain from reacting, notice where in your body
you feel irritation the gut, the head, the chest
and with each exhalation, imagine the tension draining
out of your hands and feet. You don't need to hold on
to this for a minute longer.
Excerpted from the book One-Minute Mindfulness ©2011 by Donald Altman. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com
Donald Altman, M.A., LPC, is the author of One-Minute Mindfulness, The Mindfulness Code, and Meal-by-Meal. Known as America's Mindfulness Coach, he is a practicing psychotherapist who conducts mindful living and mindful eating workshops and retreats through colleges, community centers, and health care organizations. Visit him online at http://www.OneMinuteMindfulnessBook.com.