“Patience serves as a protection against wrongs as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you. So in like manner you must grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs, and they will then be powerless to vex your mind.” –Leonardo DaVinci
I had never understood the virtue of patience as a curative for the things that make you angry. I never learned how this most evolved form of patience, is actually a form of emotional austerity, which keeps you from getting hooked by our instinctual angry responses. I recently listened to Pema Chodron explain how the virtue of patience keeps you from “biting the hook” that life throws your way. Instead of letting anger and resentment be the first response, the practice of patience trains you to hold the frustration, anger and pain of the wrong doing before jumping to make things worse. It requires courage to not hurt back and an inner quiet, which allows you to hang onto yourself at the same time.
There are other kinds of patient acts that prepare us for this more grown up version. Lessons that help develop this ability include: learning to wait for someone to finish something that should have been done ten minutes ago or the patience to teach and re-teach a child how to tie their shoe. Feeling hungry and waiting for food to be cooked and served is good practice, just as wanting something badly and having to wait and save up enough money to get it. Growing into the patience that keeps you from saying mean words with increasing speed and frequency, is a form of prayer.
Today, I had the opportunity to feel how challenging it is to be still when my mind was racing, and every fiber of my being wants to combat the wrong with an equal dose of malice. Literally this is where prayers become action verbs. It takes so much strength to overcome the desire to make it worse. You have to train your mind vigilantly to do nothing in those situations. Gratitude and compassion feel mostly like a hollow shell with little left to embody. Holding still with anger, frustration and resentment, and not growing it, feels so unnatural that you lose your appetite.
It is unnatural because when you are wronged, there are so many good reasons to retaliate. It is not easy to get to this prayerful patience, which isn’t about right or wrong doing. This capacity for patience lives in the field beyond right and wrong, where things are the way they are. The question that deserves attention is how long do I want to keep fanning the flames of my anger. How much of my life energy do I want to give to this?
It takes patience to learn patience. I am happy for all of the practice I have had on the little irritations. I am grateful for the many years that I have learned to wait. It is slowly allowing me to grow into holding the most challenging patience of all, the stillness of holding my own anger and overcoming the compulsion to hurt back.