Patience can’t be acquired overnight. It is just like building up a muscle. Every day you need to work on it — Eknath Easwaran
Waiting is a strange Bardo or intermediate state. Every once in a while we are derailed from our usual activity and find ourselves forced to wait, maybe in a doctor’s office, a line, traffic or a bus stop. In my case, I’m slowly chugging into a large, shabby, satellite office of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Most people in my predicament at the DMV look worn down by the looming stretch of time they face. Some are prepared with books, others seek stimulation by dialing cell phones or checking the Internet. A few stare mournfully around the large, drab waiting room.
But the waiting room, is an opportunity to practice patience.
In Judaism, Islam and Christianity, patience is a virtue. In Buddhism it is one of the Pāramitās or perfections which help to develop mindfulness. As a yoga teacher, I am reminded of the warrior and balance asanas (poses) in our practice. These asanas build heat and challenge the mind and body to cultivate endurance, stillness and steadfast calm. In fact, the more we struggle, the more difficult the asana becomes. Waiting is a mental asana that can test our discipline and teach us about our tendencies. We may find that we are uncomfortable outside of our routine, or that we are addicted to mental distraction. A restlessness and longing for change can arise. Is it possible to rest in the current space we occupy when that space is somehow strange or uncomfortable?
In the waiting room, we often confront aspects of ourselves that we have rejected. Here at the DMV, we encounter people from vastly different backgrounds, the very young or old, gangsters with the names of fallen comrades tattooed on their arms, people who seem like strangers, foreign and unconnected to our lives. Our own sense of identity and place in time and space can be challenged, as we see fired-up youths wearing the latest radical style or old eyes, pale as smoke taking in the changing world with detachment. It’s odd, but in a room full of people, we can feel alienated and alone. Our egos can be aroused as we compare ourselves to others. We can even become tribal, identifying who is like us and who is not, shifting our consciousness into duality— the illusion that we are separate from the energy around us. Once in Duality, we confront feelings of attraction and repulsion. We can become attached to what we find beautiful or entertaining or repulsed by people and things that challenge our belief systems and test our sympathy. In cultivating patience, we must observe our mental habits and confront our own hidden prejudice, fear, restlessness, sorrow, need for control, self-importance or criticism.
What do we do when we find these pockets of resistance?
Observe them without lying to ourselves or denying what we see and like ice in the sunlight, these blocks will dissolve. The Buddhists try to see each person, not as a stranger, but as if they were our mother in a past life, to generate a feeling of tenderness. In yoga we say Namaste, which means I bow to the light within you. This is also a gentle reminder that we are all one, we feel the same pain and long for the same happiness.
We must practice moving into stillness, patience, release and surrender, breath by breath. Observe the habits of mind and body, while slowly building steadfast calm and releasing attachment, repulsion, fear and agitation.
Next time you find yourself in a waiting room, see it as an opportunity to grow more open and to create inner stability that is not dependent on external conditions—to find patience and eventually, serenity.