Patience, Antidote for Anger (and all our other evils)
Patience, the practice of patience, of wholeheartedly being present, is the antidote for faulty frustrated desires (the I-wants and shoulda-hads) and unwanted occurrences (the I-shouldn’ta gottens, shouldn’t bes). That being the case, we need to make the perfection of patience an omnipresent practice; not just a fallback position to use in difficult situations.
Patience is a mind that is able to be fully present with whatever occurs. It is much more than just gritting our teeth and putting up with things, that’s the tolerance/intolerance thing. Being patient means to welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other than what they are. It is founded in a trust of ourselves to do what is right, without preparation or discursive analysis, in any situation.
When patience is present in our mind it is impossible for anger to gain a foothold. As we know from the cushion, since we can only have one thought at a time, if there is patience there cannot be anger.
It is always possible to be patient; there is no situation so bad that it cannot be accepted patiently, with an open, accommodating, and peaceful heart.
We start training ourselves to be patient on the cushion when we teach ourselves how to be patient with our thoughts and feelings as they arise, especially when we sit without moving and learn to be able to let go of discomfort. Letting go of our imagined discomforts, after all, is patience. Next we take it off the cushion and practice patience by learning to accept the small everyday difficulties and hardships that arise. Gradually our patient mindstate increases and we remain peaceful in the face of our perceived adversities. There are many examples of people who have managed to practice patience even in the most extreme circumstances––Empty Cloud, for example, when he was being tortured. or those in the final stages of cancer, who, although their bodies are ravaged, maintain peaceful minds.
- If we practice the patience of voluntarily accepting suffering (which is all imagined and unreal), we can maintain a peaceful mind even when experiencing “suffering and pain.”
- If we maintain this peaceful and positive state of mind through the force of mindfulness, angry minds will have no opportunity to arise. (You’re always breathing, so you can always return to your breath, even when someone is screaming at you). On the other hand, if we allow ourselves to dwell in aversive or harmful thoughts there will be no way for us to prevent anger from arising.
- By training our mind to look at frustrating situations in a more realistic manner, we can free ourselves from anger and a lot of other unnecessary mental suffering: If there is a way to remedy an unpleasant situation, what point is there in being angry or worried? On the other hand, if it is completely impossible to remedy the situation there is also no reason to get upset either. This line of reasoning is very useful, for it leads is to realize through mindfulness that a peaceful life is a call to action, not thought.
Being patient doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do something to improve the situation. If it is possible to remedy the situation, then of course we should; but to do this we do not need to become worried or angry. Simple awareness is all we need.
As long as we are alive, we cannot avoid seemingly unpleasant, difficult situations and a certain amount of physical discomfort, but by training our mind to look at frustrating, anger-producing situations in a more realistic manner, we can free ourselves from a lot of much if not most of our unnecessary suffering.
Instead of reacting blindly through the force of emotional habit (anger, worry, depression, etc.), we should examine the situation. We should not become angry just because things do not go our way. We must break that old habit of ours if we are to progress past anger and move meaningfully forward on the Path.
In reality all our problems are nothing more than a failure to accept things as they are – in which case it is patience, rather than attempting to change externals, that is the solution. Lessening and managing the anger, in its full spectrum from irritation to wrath, is not the point on which we practice. The point is to patiently be with things as they are and to let go of all our fabrications about how they oughta be/shoulda been. Problems do not exist outside our mind, so when we stop seeing other people and things as problems they stop being problems.
The Three Patiences
There are three kinds of situation in which we need to learn to be patient:
- When we are experiencing suffering, hardship, or disappointment
- When we are practicing Dharma
- When we are harmed or criticized by others
Correspondingly, there are three types of patience:
- The patience to deal with our perceived suffering in each moment – we do this when we realize that we are the source (it’s our stories based on our past actions) of all our suffering and that if we are patient with the suffering it will cease.
- The patience required to practice the Dharma – this is using our understanding of emptiness and dependent arising to lessen attachment and increase patience though mindfulness, which guides us in eradicating our delusions and suffering.
- The patience not to retaliate – we learn not to retaliate when we combine patience with compassion; and further when we realize we are the real source of the suffering is internal not external, so there is no reason for retaliation.
Reminder: Right Speech Produces Patience
Right speech leads to mindfulness, wisdom, and speaking calmly and with lovingkindness and compassion in our hearts. Those conditions tend to hold us stable in a patient mindstate. They also allay anger.
Only speak when it will improve the silence
1. Only speak when conditions suggest you should speak
2. Only speak when you have something to say that will be of benefit
3. Always speak in ways that can be heard
4 Only say it once
5. Never go on the battlefield; being of benefit isn’t about winning
Avoid wrong speech:
1. Avoid harsh, mean-spirited or angry words
2. Avoid falsehoods
3. Avoid gossip and small talk
4. Avoid belittling others to raise your own status
We use wrong speech when we feel an aversion. Wrong speech is uttered in anger and intended to cause the hearer pain. Such speech can assume different forms:
1. Abusive speech: scolding, screaming, reviling, or demonizing with harsh, bitter words.
2. Insulting speech: hurling insults at someone for some perceived offensive quality or action that we don’t like or approve of.
3. Sarcasm, snarkiness and the like: speaking to someone in a sharp or ironic way intended to annoy or outright hurt them.