I sometimes think that Zen students and entrepreneurs are the most patient, and at the same time the least patient, people. Zen students spend long hours, days, and years, sitting, facing a wall, expecting nothing. Entrepreneurs spend a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money planning and working without knowing the results of their efforts. While Zen students and entrepreneurs exhibit great patience they are equally impatient when it comes to accepting anything less than perfection.
Basho, a Zen poet, wrote:
The horse pissing
Near my pillow
This poem describes the rawness of Basho’s life and his ability to describe things just the way they are. My poem for today could be something like:
Email not working
Employees out sick
Our lives at work are filled with difficulty. People are late for meetings. Our ideas are not met with enthusiasm. Computers crash, restart, and crash again. Other people don’t meet our expectations. Our overnight package is lost. Relationships become impossible. Cash shortages are threatening, and businesses fail. Patience requires that we fully and directly face our difficulties, that we embrace and learn from situations and from our feelings about them. Owning and transforming our pain and disappointment can be a tremendous challenge, as well as a tremendous gift.
Patience is what connects the entrepreneurial spirit required in business with facing the truth of what is actually required in Zen practice. It takes patience to face the truth of where we are in our work lives. The truth may include the pain of not meeting expectations, a variety of messy and challenging situations facing us each day, as well the possibilities of transformation and great accomplishment.
Next: 3 ways to practice patience at work
Zen describes several kinds of patience that can be practiced at work: acceptance of difficulty and hardship, not acting hastily, and acceptance of what is true. Let’s explore these.
Acceptance of difficulty. Our lives at work can be transformed when we completely accept that difficulty is to be expected and cannot be avoided. This doesn’t mean we take the negative attitude of “what will go wrong today?” Instead, we just pay attention to our own state of mind. We make our best effort. We meet each situation as it arises.
Not acting hastily. Given how difficult, unpredictable, and stressful our work lives can be, it is easy to respond quickly and impatiently. In difficult situations, just stop, think, and look more carefully at what really is the cause of the difficulty. When your computer crashes you can get upset and yell at whoever is in charge of your computer systems. Or, when your computer crashes, what if you just stop, take a breath, and notice your breathing, notice what is around you.
Acceptance of what is true. Most of our impatience comes from our wanting things to be different from what they are. Our overnight package did not arrive overnight. This is just true. There is nothing we can do to change what is. We can take actions to expedite the package’s delivery, but this action includes accepting what is difficult, not acting hastily, and accepting what is true.
When are you patient and when you are impatient at work?
What is most difficult for you at work?
What part of this difficulty do you create?
How can you transform this difficulty?
Adapted from Z.B.A. Zen of Business Administration.