One of the foundational attitudes of mindfulness is patience. The importance of this characteristic is underscored by its central presence in all major religions as well. In my re-reading of the late theologian Henri Nouwen’s book Discernment, he highlights that patience is not passivity but an “active waiting”. This spiritual view of patience as an active waiting applies in the secular mindfulness context as well.
In mindfulness, patience becomes a practice of active waiting when we draw the experience of impatience into our practice to expand our awareness. With patience, we stick with the present moment, sitting in the discomfort of impatience that arises from our desire to want to be somewhere else, to want where we are or who we are with to be different, to want to do something, anything, to want a different outcome, to want learning to be easier, to want to get what we want quicker, to divert our attention from that discomfort.
In mindful contemplation, we can learn more about ourselves and whether how we respond to our impatience reflects the person we want to be. How much of our impatience is triggered by our unrealistic expectations of ourselves or others, of a bruised ego, of a limited view of how aspects of our life can be shaped, of a diversion from difficult decisions that need to be faced, or of a dissatisfaction with the direction of our life? How much of our impatience is simply an unconscious habit? We can give ourselves space to let our understanding and experiences develop in their own time. And we can let go of attachment to a particular outcome, allowing for the better, perhaps unexpected, outcome to unfold.
Of course, not every quick action we take, even in response to impatience, is unwarranted. Stronger insight into how we habitually respond to the sensations of impatience though can help us discern when we are acting automatically rather than choosing to respond thoughtfully.
Where in your life is impatience showing up in a way that will not serve you over the long-term? In what way can you be better served by cultivating patience? Like in all of contemplation, this practice of “active waiting” is a life long journey we get better at over time in our own way. This free guide on 23 Ways to Integrate Mindfulness into Your Life can help you identify the mindfulness practices to cultivate patience.