Patience for Your Meditation Practice
By Tergar Meditation Community• 5 min read
What is patience, for a meditation practitioner? It’s a lot more than being able to discover that your flight has been delayed without raging at the people at the front desk, or being capable of hearing no, you can’t have that new toy, that bonus, or that fun adventure you wanted without having a meltdown. For a meditation practitioner, patience is a willingness to be fully open to situations — to get the big picture, rather than simply seeing that “something is happening to me.” It’s a mind that stays balanced and centered in the face of difficulties.
This type of patience needs nurturing to thrive. It is strengthened by the inspiration or a sense of joyful effort to engage in the path. It acquires stability from the steady, vast mind of meditation. And wisdom makes it mature and unflappable, because wisdom sees situations with a broad, clear view that transcends binaries and goes beyond the confines of me or you. Rather than react, iIt responds with warmth, clarity, and skill. Once wisdom is folded into the mix, there’s no longer any territory to defend, opinion to cling to, or agenda to promote. If you have patience that’s being nourished by joyful effort, meditation, and wisdom, you can be okay in the middle of whatever’s happening. You don’t need to expect anything specific, or to try to bend circumstances to your will. Your usual sense that there’s an individual over here who is being patient, someone or something out there that needs to be endured, and the activity of patience in between begins to loosen up and dissipate. This is what is known as “threefold purity.”
Traditionally, a willingness to bear hardship, or take on obstacles, is one of the core skills of a practitioner on the path. Being willing to stay open in the face of difficulties is based on having a workable, pliable mind, which is developed over time through meditation practice. And, it’s based on our understanding of how the path works. Which goes like this: as your meditation practice progresses, it might feel like your mind is beginning to settle a bit; your life seems a little less ragged and confused. But as you proceed further, as your mind settles, it also opens up. This openness allows all kinds of inclinations and patterns —which your defense mechanisms of denial and repression had thus far been holding at bay —to begin to manifest. When these kinds of issues arise, you need to understand that this is a natural maturation. If you comprehend that, you can relax into it. Eventually, you can even actually invite challenging situations as opportunities to deepen your practice.
Ordinarily, when problems arise, our first response is to struggle with them, either by projecting them onto the external world or fleeing them. But in fact, what has truly arisen in the moment is the ripening of a karmic seed that has been laying dormant in our consciousness. So, reacting to a problem only reifies and strengthens our underlying patterns, and the whole situation becomes just another link in a long chain of confusion. If, on the other hand, we can be patient and not react when a problem arises, then that karmic seed is liberated. That’s “the bad news being the good news.” It’s also why the spacious mind of awareness is so critical: it is the exit door out of our habitual patterns. It is the key to freedom.
The ability to accept whatever arises comes through patience. In truth, difficulties and hardships are our friends along the path, because they motivate us. As Tai Situ Rinpoche said, “Suffering is like the broom that sweeps away the causes of suffering and when we understand this then the suffering is reduced to its true stature. Without the understanding it tends to become amplified to twice, ten or a hundred times its true size.”
Another aspect of real patience is the willingness not to retaliate when you feel harmed — and to stay present, open, and connected to your intention not to cause harm. Here again, this is patience that’s grounded in a flexible mind that is not overly tight or agitated. If your mind is tight and speedy, everything irritates you. The willingness to be present in a difficult situation rests on having a stable mind, and a gentle and empathetic outlook. Empathy naturally arises from an ongoing meditation practice over time, because practicing fosters an intuitive understanding of your whole, idiosyncratic self — your wishes, fears, sensitivities, weak points, quirks. As your practice progresses, this understanding blossoms into a sense of sympathy and warmth toward your own situation, a fundamental friendliness. It softens you up, letting you see others with the same gentleness. And it becomes clear that the ultimate reason for everything that you do, consciously or not, is to escape suffering, and instead experience some peace and well-being. Once you really begin to see that everything you do boils down to a desire to be happy and free from suffering — and how many mistakes you make in the process — you become able to give other people a break, and think, “Just like me, they want to be happy and free of suffering — and just like me, they screw it up.” This outlook creates a peaceful and forgiving attitude.
Another aspect of true patience is called for when difficulties come up on the path of study and practice of the Dharma — with all the time and, effort you put into it, and the frustrations you might experience along the way. That includes the patience it requires when, as a result of your practice, your solid, familiar, and comfy experience of the world is shaken. As your mind opens and wisdom begins to dawn, you start to get a taste of the fact that nothing is fixed, that everything is uncertain. It’s very common to recoil from that, and try to scramble for something solid to grab onto. For some people, that sense of groundlessness can bring on anxiety or even panic. So, “patience” in this context is the patience to continue even in the presence of uncertainty. In actuality, that sense of groundlessness is a sign that your practice is bearing fruit, but at first it can be extremely uncomfortable or threatening. Over time, though, if you apply the patience to keep moving along the path step by step, you will get more acclimated to this uncertainty. In fact, the groundlessness becomes a sort of ground itself. You will find this out for yourself if you have patience, and a willingness to stay the course.
“ I opened my mind and let all the experiences flow through like clouds of different shapes and sizes moving across the sky.”
– Mingyur Rinpoche –
Learn meditation under the skillful guidance of world-renowned teacher Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche at your own pace.
Tergar Meditation Community supports individuals, practice groups, and meditation communities around the world in learning to live with awareness, compassion, and wisdom. Grounded in the Tibetan Buddhist lineage of our guiding teacher, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, our online and in-person programs are accessible to people of all cultures and faiths, and support a lifelong path toward the application of these principles in everyday life.
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