The art of waiting
Shivi Verma explains how practising patience allows life to present us with favourable opportunities at the right time. She also highlights ways in which this virtue can be practised
Three years ago, as I sat before the sacrificial fires of the havan being performed at my guru’s ashram, I was asked to send an ardent wish to the heavens. I closed my eyes and, with deep humility, asked the gods to teach me patience.
It is one quality that has always held me in awe. I feel that those blessed with patience are the noblest and most evolved beings on this planet. Their sheer presence impregnates their surroundings with a divine aura. They lend stability, calm, and faith to every situation they are in.
Under the canopy of their calm acceptance, people get umpteen opportunities to experiment with life. They can run, tumble, fall, get up, and try again until they have found themselves.
Had it not been for the patient handling of my acute depression by my parents, I would never have been able to fight my demons and emerge a winner. They held on for close to a decade, never giving up on me even once, believing strongly that eventually, I will overcome my challenges. Needless to say, that I could prove them right, simply because they never lost their faith and patience.
But I never knew that asking for patience meant being sent umpteen situations which would test me and reveal my dark spots to me. For how else would you cultivate patience unless you undergo circumstances that need you to patiently wait for the outcome, be tolerant in the face of provocation and let-downs, and stay hopeful when the clouds of doom and despair threaten to overcast your life?
Every time I have felt frustrated by delays, I am reminded of the wish I had sent to the gods, and feel humbled. As I faced betrayals, instead of wallowing in self-pity, I went deeper within myself, realising that no one has an obligation to live up to my expectations. The delays made me ponder over the qualities I needed to imbibe before I became deserving of the gifts I so badly wanted.
Patience helped me to let go of victimhood and embrace forgiveness. It took my focus away from my pain points and let me embrace a larger perspective. It increased my bearing capacity. I realised how much the world owed to people who could keep things together, simply because of their tolerance.
Patience enabled me to be thankful and grateful for all that I had and believe in the positivity of the grand overall design of the Universe. In short, patience helped me gain the depth of character I had always wanted.
Patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate delays,
troubles, or suffering without getting angry or upset.
What is patience
The Oxford dictionary describes patience as the capacity to accept or tolerate delays, troubles, or suffering without getting angry or upset. How true! Patience makes you strong. It makes you not give up in the middle of a project; it enables you to learn a particular skill or craft that takes a lot of effort; it causes relationships to tide over their tumultuous phase and become better; it makes you soldier through difficulties and chronic ailments with fortitude and optimism.
Patience gives life the opportunity to work itself out, instead of getting all knotted up because of human meddling. Everything in the Universe follows its own clock. Saplings grow into trees in their own time, babies grow into adults, and wounds (whether physical or mental) take their own time to heal. Therefore, patience makes one align with the rhythm of the Universe.
In her blog on this elusive virtue, Kiran Newman—managing editor of Greater Good—says, “As virtues go, patience is a quiet one. It’s often exhibited behind closed doors, not on a public stage: A father telling a third bedtime story to his son, a dancer waiting for her injury to heal. In public, it’s the impatient ones who grab all our attention: Drivers honking in traffic, grumbling customers in slow-moving lines. We have epic movies exalting the virtues of courage and compassion, but a movie about patience might be a bit of a snoozer.
“Yet patience is essential to daily life—and might be key to a happy one. Having patience means being able to wait calmly in the face of frustration or adversity, so anywhere there is frustration or adversity—i.e., nearly everywhere—we have the opportunity to practice it. At home with our kids, at work with our colleagues, at the grocery store with half our city’s population, patience can make the difference between annoyance and equanimity, between worry and tranquility.”
In my experience, I have observed that having patience helps you get something done faster. You simply align yourself with the pace of time, relaxing and not getting worked up over delays and disappointments. However, if you get upset, frustrated, or angry, you are likely to take actions that might hurt you and shift the goal even further.
Why patience must be cultivated
Patience is about exercising self-control and cultivating the habit of waiting. Since life is under no obligation to turn out as we expect it to, cultivating patience helps us face its delays and disappointments with hope and courage. Patience makes us choose happiness and optimism over frustration and despair.
And it does not come easy to us. Since our infancy, we are used to having our wishes gratified the moment they arise. The mother feeds, cleanses, clothes, hugs, and tends to the baby as soon as it cries for attention. All its needs are met instantly. But, as children grow older, they realise everything is not theirs for the asking. Life denies many things to people. So, in the absence of instant gratification, you can either lose hope, become rebellious, bitter, angry, or depressed, or learn the art of having faith and waiting patiently for the tides to turn in your favour. In the 1960s, Mischel, then a professor at Stanford, took nursery-school students, put them in a room one by one, and gave them a treat (they could choose a cookie, a pretzel stick, or a marshmallow) and the following deal: They could eat the treat right away or wait for 15 minutes until the experimenter returned. If they waited, they would get an extra treat. Tracking the kids over time, Mischel found that the ability to hold out in this seemingly trivial exercise had real and profound consequences. As they matured and became adults, the kids who had shown the ability to wait, got better grades, were healthier, enjoyed greater professional success, and proved better at staying in relationships—even decades after they took the test. They were, in short, better at life.
Patience is a handy life skill
Those who demonstrate patience largely do better in life. By staying calm and not giving in to emotional outbursts when things don’t happen their way, they remain in control of their lives and destiny. Their minds begin to think of options, learnings, and possibilities when their plans fail to fructify.
“When, for the third time in a row, I failed to clear my CA exam, I decided to look where I was going wrong instead of getting mad, frustrated, and angry at destiny. On careful observation, I discovered that I was not keeping abreast of the latest information and upgrades in the syllabus which I had been studying diligently for three years. I decided to plug the gaps in my preparation and give one more shot at the entrance exams. Needless to say, the result was positive,” says Amit Makhija, a CA in a multinational company based in Mumbai.
Says, Judith Orloff, M.D., who is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA and the author of The Empath’s Survival Guide: “Patience doesn’t mean passivity or resignation, but power. It’s an emotionally freeing practice of waiting, watching, and knowing when to act. To many people, when you say, “Have patience,” it feels unreasonable and inhibiting. Well, reconsider. I’m presenting patience as a form of compassion, a re-attuning to intuition, a way to emotionally redeem your centre in a world filled with frustration.”
And she is right because patience does not mean weakness but faith in the positivity of the Universe. It emerges from your conviction that things are being conspired in your favour and that you simply need to see which direction the Universe is pointing at.
Patience shows you the larger picture
To become frustrated means to show your helplessness. Frustration is a feeling of agitation and intolerance when your needs aren’t met, which is tied to an inability to delay gratification. In the era of high-speed internet, instant messages, speed dating, and fastest pizza delivery, patience has become the sad casualty. A slight delay, slow-moving traffic, lines at the supermarket, inability to find something, or an unpleasant tone of voice are enough to make us explode with rage and frustration. And the same impatience permeates every aspect of our life. In relationships too, instead of investing our time and energy into building them, we are quick to call them off at the slightest hint of discomfort or annoyance. Whereas patience makes you see the beauty of now, and the value of all that you have. Patient people know that delays, discomfort and difficulties are par for the course in the pursuit of any worthy goal and know how to stick-in till the very end without lose faith, hope or courage.
Says Satish Kaku, a spiritual teacher from Mumbai, “Patience gives you the ability to see the situation from a distance and bring in clarity so that you can respond instead of aggressively react. It helps you to calmly handle life without being defensive, stressed, dissatisfied, irritable, and hostile. With patience, you can resolve your problems in a healthy way. Patience is an active attitude to invoke your intuition, wisdom, true knowledge, and understanding of life. It teaches you to be focused (especially within) and to determine the right action with total awareness, calmness, and responsibility. Patience is being your ‘self’, being ‘that’, and being ‘who you are’.”
Patience is divine
Patience simply means to let your mind get off the driver’s seat and allow a larger force to take over. The devotees of Sai Baba chant the mantra, shraddha aur saburi, which means faith and patience are essential to getting your wishes fulfilled. The virtue of patience is highly recommended in all the scriptures.
Says Osho, “Sudheer means ‘infinitely patient’. Love is patient and everything else is impatient. And once you understand that to be patient is to be loving, to be in prayer, then everything is understood. One has to wait, and one has to learn to wait. There are things that cannot be done. They only happen. Things which can be done belong to the world. Things which cannot be done belong to God and they are the real things. They always happen to you, you become a receiving end, and that is the meaning of surrender. Become a receiving end. Be patient, just wait. Wait with deep love, prayerfulness, and gratitude for that which has already happened, and patience for that which has not happened.”
Patience attunes you to your intuition
Patience is another way of co-creating with the rhythm of the Universe.
When a situation becomes difficult, you don’t rush forward on a horse swinging a sword, swearing to destroy the obstacles. Instead, you patiently wait for the right moment to make your move as effectively as possible.
Says Judith Orloff, “I am defining patience as an active state, a choice to hold tight until intuition says, ‘make your move.’ It means waiting your turn, knowing your turn will come. Once you’ve gone all out toward a goal, it entails trusting the flow, knowing when to let the soup boil. Intuition intelligently informs patience. It’ll convey when to have it and if something is worth working on or waiting for.”
I remember my junior colleagues being very insular and hostile to me in an organisation I had newly joined. I would feel hurt every day while stepping into the office, as not a single person would look in my direction or even acknowledge my presence. But instead of reacting with anger or hurt, I decided to ignore this stepmotherly treatment. I didn’t want to give others the remote control of my feelings. One day, all of them except me got transferred to another department in the same city. There, their new boss was very domineering and would often resort to yelling and screaming to get the work done. All of a sudden, I began to appear in a new light to them. Their behaviour towards me underwent a noticeable change. They would show extreme politeness and respect towards me whenever I would visit their centre or they, mine. I was vindicated without doing anything to change the situation simply because I was extremely patient.
Types of patience
Patience gets tested in three types of situations. In 2012, Sarah A Schnitker, associate professor of the psychology department, University of California, sought to refine our understanding of patience, recognising that it comes in many different stripes.
Interpersonal patience: This form of patience involves facing annoying people with
equanimity. In a study of nearly 400 undergraduates, she found that those who are more patient toward others also tend to be more hopeful and more satisfied with their lives. With patience, you’re able to step back and regroup instead of aggressively reacting or hastily giving up on someone who’s frustrating you. You’re able to invest meaningful time in a relationship without giving up or giving in.
Says Mona Verma, a seeker and Reiki practitioner based in the USA, “After being married into a joint family 13 years ago, I started realising that all the freedom that I was so used to having, had somehow slipped into the autocratic control of my father-in-law. I soon realised the importance of freedom of thought and expression which I had always enjoyed in my parents’ home. What also stayed with me were the values of compassion and respect for elders instilled in me by my mother. With these values, I did not know any better than to pray for my husband’s job in a different city. Although my prayers got answered, everyone moved in with us. I was heartbroken. Things went on like this for a few years until it dawned on me that I was not enjoying my present because I was so desperate about my future. As time went by, I gradually decided to accept my situation completely, instead of dreaming about how my life would be without any interference from my in-laws. With these thoughts, I slowly started mending my ways. I started valuing the people in my life. I started to walk hand in hand with them. This ‘coming back’ made me realise my strength and power without any arrogance. I could now easily stand up for myself whenever needed, instead of suffering silently and hoping for a different future. I made a definite progress as a human being. I was happy. And then one day, my husband got an overseas job offer. We had to move, but this time, it was just us. I left my in-laws’ home but this time with a heart full of love for the people I once wanted to run away from.”
Waiting hopefully: Another type of patience involves waiting out life’s hardships without frustration or despair. Think of the unemployed person who persistently fills out job
applications or the cancer patient waiting for her treatment to work. Unsurprisingly, in Schnitker’s study, this type of courageous patience was linked to more hope.
When Nutan Pakhare, a yoga instructor at Kaivalyadham, Mumbai, fell from a height 10 years ago and injured her spinal cord, she was able to recover because of the patient handling of her condition by her loved ones. Bedridden for months, she decided to consider the injury as a gift from God and spent time thinking about her life purpose. She healed through a combination of therapies such as yoga, ayurveda, and Sahaj Marg meditation. Instead of giving into despair and hopelessness, she showed patience in her faith that she will recover—which she eventually did.
Patient people tend to be more cooperative,
more empathetic, more equitable, and more
Patience over daily hassles: Patience during traffic jams, long lines at the grocery store, or a malfunctioning computer, seems to be closely connected with good mental health. In particular, people who have this type of patience are more satisfied with life and are less depressed. We all have come across these types of situations. And while some whine, complain, or grumble, others wait patiently for their turn to come, the traffic to clear up, or busy themselves in other tasks such as playing games on their mobiles, reading, or listening to music. On a group level, patience may be one of the foundations of civil society. Patient people are more likely to vote, an activity that entails standing in queues to cast their votes and then waiting for months or years for our elected official to implement better policies.
Benefits of practising patience:
Patient people enjoy better mental health
According to a 2007 study by professor Schnitker and UC Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons, patient people tend to experience less depression and negative emotions, perhaps because they can cope better with upsetting or stressful situations. They also rate themselves as more mindful, more grateful, more connected to mankind and to the Universe, and possessing a greater sense of abundance.
In her 2012 study, Schnitker invited 71 undergraduates to participate in two weeks of patience training, where they learned to identify feelings, their triggers, regulate their emotions, empathise with others, and meditate. In two weeks, participants reported feeling more patient toward the trying people in their lives, feeling less depressed, and experiencing higher levels of positive emotions.
Patient people forge better relationships
In relationships, patience becomes a form of kindness. It gets reflected in the way people put up with difficult behaviour, simply because they do not want to lose a relationship. Sunanda Awasthi, 59, showed patience with a neighbour who had a habit of leaving the main gate open while leaving for his office every day, making the premises unsafe for everyone. Instead of picking up a fight, she wrote and hung a message on the gate, generally requesting people to close it after opening it each time. Result, she and her family are still on good terms with their neighbour’s family.
The best friend who comforts you night after night over the heartache that just won’t go away, or the grandparent who smiles through the story she has heard her grandson tell countless times, do it because they care deeply for their loved ones. Indeed, research suggests that patient people tend to be more cooperative, more empathetic, more equitable, and more forgiving. The interpersonally patient people even tended to be less lonely, because making and keeping friends—with all their quirks and slip-ups—generally requires a healthy dose of patience. “Patience may enable individuals to tolerate flaws in others, therefore displaying more generosity, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness,” write Schnitker and Emmons in their 2007 study. Evolutionary theorists believe that patience helped our ancestors survive because it allowed them to do good deeds and wait for others to reciprocate, instead of demanding immediate compensation (which would more likely lead to conflict rather than cooperation). In that same vein, patience is linked to trust in the people and the institutions around us.
Patience helps us achieve our goals
The road to achievement is a long one, and those without patience, who want to see results immediately, may not be willing to walk it. Impatient people—no matter how talented—are more likely than patient ones to give up in the middle and fail at achieving their goals in the face of mounting hurdles.
In her 2012 study, Schnitker discovered that patient people reported exerting more effort toward their goals than other people did. Those with interpersonal patience, in particular, made more progress toward their goals and were more satisfied when they achieved them (particularly if those goals were difficult) compared with less patient people. Patience makes you believe in yourself and persevere till you have achieved your goal. Said Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work,” aptly summarising the role of patience in achieving one’s goal.
According to Schnitker’s analysis, greater satisfaction with achieving their goals made people more content with their lives as a whole
Patience is linked to good health
The study of patience is still new, but there’s some emerging evidence that it might even be good for our health. In 2007, Schnitker and Emmons found that patient people were less likely to report health problems like headaches, acne flare-ups, ulcers, diarrhoea, and pneumonia. Other research has found that people who exhibit impatience and irritability tend to have more health complaints and worse sleep. If patience can reduce our daily stress, it’s reasonable to speculate that it could also protect us against the damaging health effects of stress.
How to cultivate patience
It is all good news for the naturally patient. But the rest of us might need to learn how to be patient. For seekers, it’s a good idea to know that lack of patience is an ego-driven impulse, whereas having patience is deeply linked with trusting the Grand Overall Design of the Universe.
However, there are some strategies suggested by the emerging patience research:
Reframe the situation: Feeling impatient is not just an automatic emotional response; it involves conscious thoughts and beliefs, too.
If a colleague is late for a meeting, you can fume about their lack of respect or see those extra 15 minutes as an opportunity to catch up on some reading. Patience is linked to self-control, and consciously trying to regulate our emotions can help us train our self-control muscles. Being in awareness and observing how your impatience is causing you to get angry and throw a fit—disturbing everything else in the process—can help you control
Practise mindfulness and deep breathing: According to one study, people who practise mindfulness tend to exhibit more patience in life. Taking a deep breath and noticing your feelings of anger or being overwhelmed (for example, when your kids start yet another argument right before bedtime) can help you respond with more patience.
The more deeply we breathe, the more we come in alignment with our spiritual centre where all is well, calm, and controlled. Therefore, consciously practising deep breathing is a great way to keep your rebellious emotions in check and harmonise any frustrating situation in life. Deep breathing gives clarity to the mind and attunes you to the Divine plan, which you might not be able to see due to an agitated mind. Meditation, and mindful breathing, build the muscle of patience and make you stronger.
Practise acceptance: Our lack of acceptance of the situation at hand and our sense of entitlement to everything we desire is linked deeply to our impatience. Our inability to accept delays, changes, quirks, and habits of people makes us lose patience. Whereas if we could diffuse our focus on the world and see the larger picture—how things beyond our control lie outside our domain, and the best way is to accept them—we would naturally become more patient.
Practise gratitude: In another study, adults who were feeling grateful were also better at patiently delaying gratification. When given the choice between getting an immediate cash reward or waiting a year for a larger ($100) windfall, less grateful people caved in once the immediate payment offer climbed to $18. Grateful people, however, could hold out until the amount reached $30. If we’re thankful for what we have today, we’re not desperate for more stuff or better circumstances immediately.
Patience is the best tool to handle the vagaries of life. It makes us not give up and be there when life is ready to shower us with the gifts of transformation, renewal, and abundance when it feels that we have become truly deserving. For good things come to those who wait.
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