Cultivating Patience with Mindfulness

How often do we think “I need to get … done so I can…”? Then if anything holds us up and delays us it can lead to such frustration and irritation. In adopting this attitude we’re spoiling our appreciation of the moment and literally wishing away whole periods of our life. This brings me to the second of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s attitudinal foundations of mindfulness; patience.

Sometimes in our formal practice we may feel impatient and be waiting for it to finish. This becomes another experience for us to simply notice, along with the other feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations that arise and fade in our awareness over time. We need to give space to all these experiences and allow them to unfold at their own pace. For really, we have no other option; in wanting to make unpleasant experiences go away or pass quicker, paradoxically we’re often likely to be prolonging them. We can’t control their presence, nor force their absence.

Developing this quality of patience towards our mind is so important in helping us to accept that they will wander but that we can simply be aware of this without needing to get entangled in our mind’s preoccupations. Frequently when people first start learning mindfulness they think it is a mistake for the mind to wander, that it “should” stay focused on the breath. But the nature of the mind is to jump from thought to thought like a monkey swings from tree to tree as the often-quoted mindfulness analogy goes. Bringing patience to this activity of the mind can be what really helps to calm it when it’s agitated.

There’s also no need to be impatient with ourselves when it feels like nothing is happening in our practice. We are learning to be with whatever arises, even if that appears to be nothing significant or a blankness or a numbness. And sometimes it may seem as if nothing is happening on a surface level, but it might be on a deeper level. The benefits of mindfulness practice generally transpire over the longer term rather than immediately; as people in the field often say, it is not a quick fix. A certain diligence with regular practice is required to reap the rewards.

There is a wisdom inherent in knowing that things can only unfold in their own time. Having patience by being fully open to each moment and accepting it in its rich entirety can give us a greater appreciation of our lives.

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