Patience and Understanding
There is a Buddhist saying, “Don’t push the river. It will travel at its own pace anyway.”
For the purpose of spiritual evolution, it helps to envision time as a river, though we should not measure it chronologically, as we do now, but in terms of lessons learnt on the spiritual path towards immortality and infinite, eternal bliss. So we should not push the river of time. We will only end up splashing around impotently; that is, either we thrash against the current or flow with it peacefully.
The river said to the seeker: “Does one really have to fret about enlightenment? No matter which way I turn I’m homeward bound”. As far as the river is concerned, whichever way it turns, it is homeward bound — the ocean. So also on the spiritual path we keep evolving towards our ultimate goal of immortality and infinite, eternal bliss.
Impatience robs us of joy, peace and happiness. We want what we desire and we want it now. Nowhere is this more evident than in the twenty-first century world. But that is not how the nature functions. In nature, everything happens in its own time according to its own laws. When we sow a seed, it will sprout, grow and bear fruit in its own time. We cannot speed up the process of evolution. It takes nine months after the egg is fertilized in the womb to fully develop into a human form. Things come to us when we are prepared for it.
A spiritual Master always leaves a seeker to grow at his or her own pace. He is never known to “push”. A man once saw a butterfly struggling to emerge from a cocoon too slowly for his taste, so he began to blow on it gently. The warmth of his breath speeded up the process all right. But what emerged was not a butterfly but a creature with mangled wings. In growth one can’t speed the process up. All one can do is abort it. One can’t force the pace of evolution if the individual is not yet ready for it.
Spirituality is an involution and not a revolution.
We hurry in the present worrying only about the future, struggling to secure the future, which takes away the joy of living in the present. We are so busy getting to the future that the present is reduced to just a means of getting there. Stress is caused by being “here” but wanting to be “there,” or being in the present but wanting to be in the future.
The present moment is never unbearable if we live in it fully. What is unbearable is to have our body here at 10 a.m. and our mind at 6 p.m.; our body in Mumbai and our mind in Moscow. It’s a split that tears us apart inside.
We should be able to recognize that there is a right and a wrong time for everything, as there is a right and a wrong place for everything.
Psychological patience rather than physical patience is the key. Time, as we measure it, can go fast or slow. It is relative. If we internalize as the endless river that it is, then impatience disappears.
Patience is related to understanding because the more we understand a person or a situation or an experience — or ourselves — the less likely it is that we will have a knee-jerk reaction and do something hurtful to others or ourselves. For example, a husband comes home and yells at his wife for some minor infraction — perhaps she forgot to take out the garbage or mow the lawn or buy cereals. The impatient response is to yell back. But the wife has to be patient, understand. Maybe the anger coming at the wife has nothing to do with her but is a result of a bad day at the office, an oncoming cold, a migraine, an allergy or even a bad mood. As the wife she is the safe person; the husband can vent at her knowing that nothing serious will happen even if she flares up in return. But if she is patient, she might get the cause of the anger and then dissipate it. If her response is a patient one and if she understands that there is a hidden reason behind the explosion, then it is no great trick restoring harmony. One will need the ability to detach oneself from a situation, to see from a distance, to be a mere witness, to achieve a higher perspective to do so.
Contemplation and meditation are the two practices needed to develop patience, because they help us to detach ourselves from any situation and be a witness to it. As we develop the ability to be quiet, to be introspective, to be contemplative and to listen, patience invariably develops. If we train ourselves to be patient, we will recognize its importance when we have it and help us make progress on the spiritual path towards immortality and infinite, eternal bliss.
Patience plays an important role on the spiritual path. Inner peace is impossible without patience. Wisdom requires patience. Spiritual growth implies being a master of patience. Patience allows the unfolding of destiny to proceed at its own unhurried pace.
When we are impatient, we create misery for ourselves and for others. We rush to rash judgments and subsequent decisions and impulsively act without considering the consequences of what we do. Our choices are forced and often incorrect and, in time, we are liable to pay a heavy price.
Patience and understanding not only benefit us in all spheres of life, they also help us in dealing with the imperfections of our near and dear ones as well as the world around us. We realize that it takes lives of evolutionary process to attain perfection in anything. We understand our own imperfections and the struggle it takes to overcome them. Thus we become sympathetic to others’ imperfections. We are patient with their shortcomings.
One moment of patience may ward off a great disaster; one moment of impatience may ruin a whole life. — Chinese Proverb