How to Practice Patience, and Why
Patience as a Transformative Perfection
Patience is among Buddhism’s six (or ten) paramitas, qualities associated with the actions of bodhisattvas. Patience is the antidote to anger and violence, but its meaning goes far beyond that. This enlightened virtue is one we can cultivate right now to benefit ourselves and all others.
Patience in the Buddhist scriptures is khanti in the Pali language or kshanti in Sanskrit. Words like forbearance, tolerance, endurance, perseverance or poise also reflect the complex meaning of kshanti. When we practice patience we are participating in the activities of an awakened one. Doing so transforms our hardships, ourselves and our world.
Patience is informed by wisdom and compassion and connected to other Buddhist virtues such as generosity, ethics, loving-kindness, and even mindfulness or concentration. Patience allows us to be generous with our time, choose compassion over anger, and stick to our meditation practice even when it’s challenging.
In Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara, the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, patience is described as being of three types. These are translated in various ways, but generally refer to patience with others, with the truth of suffering, and with reality itself.
- Tolerant patience is not reacting to our triggers. An antidote to anger, tolerant patience might look like leaving the room, turning the other cheek, or responding with compassion versus ill will. It is the practice of patience in relation to the actions of others.
- Enduring patience or insightful patience is accepting that sometimes things are just difficult. If there’s something we can do about it, we can patiently take the next right action. If there’s nothing we can do about it, we can choose to let it go.
- Forgiving patience is patience with ourselves, specifically as it relates to our progress along a spiritual path. Meditating daily, remaining vigilant regarding our own behavior, practicing wisdom and compassion in all circumstances, none of this is easy. There will be times when all is going well and we feel our lives are improving and times when everything seems to fall apart. Forgetting and remembering is part of the process, and so we can be patient with that too.
Practicing patience is transformative because in the least, it helps us shift our habitual reactivity into intentional responsiveness. Patience allows us to act more appropriately in any given situation, thereby perpetuating less harm. In the process, it transforms our challenges into opportunities for growth.
Each time we choose patience we take part in the radical act of cycle-breaking. Learning how to practice patience with others and how to be patient with yourself is nothing short of world-changing.
How to Practice Patience Every Day
To begin, it helps to recognize when we’re being patient, when we’re not, and what patience is and isn’t. When faced with a challenging person or situation, impatience may look like anger, aggression, or even rage or violence. It can look like judgment, hate, disgust or disappointment. It can also show up in more subtle ways as craving, avoidance or aversion.
To be patient is to stand firmly in equanimity, wisdom and compassion, to accept the truth of any given situation and respond with grace and care. Tolerance does not require us to dissolve our boundaries, become a doormat, or simply grin and bear it. Neither is patience a directive to ignore or suppress. Patience is also more than self-control, as it is perfumed by compassion and loving-kindness.
In that sense, patience entails learning to be present. As anger, jealousy, ill-will or craving arises, we don’t turn away, but offer our open-hearted presence. Our tolerance is informed by curiosity and acceptance, as well as faith and courage.
The following are just a few ways to develop patience, each and every day.
- Meditate: Meditating daily makes patience possible by helping us develop awareness. We can see clearly when we’re at risk of being overtaken by emotion. Meditation also helps hold the mind steady, enabling choice before we lose our temper.
- Practice Gratitude: When others push our buttons, we can reframe it as an opportunity. We can be grateful for the ability to practice patience, generosity, compassion or any other virtue we wish to cultivate and strengthen.
- Practice Compassion: Some find it helpful, at the moment of injury, to imagine the offending party as a wounded animal. We would offer patience, grace and understanding to the animal who merely acts out in pain.
- Recall the First Noble Truth: By recalling that suffering is part of life, and that none of us are exempt, ‘my’ problems become ‘our’ problems. This can help us soften around the sense of injury, making space for patience.
- Remember Right View: Remembering the truth of karma helps us take responsibility for our present-moment experience. If someone is yelling at us, we recall that we, too, have yelled at others. But also, it’s within our power to stop the cycle by not yelling back.