Practicing Patience (written 2008)
First entry in a new journal, a gift from my sister. Each pretty page includes a quote from A Gift From the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, published in 1955. At that time I was perhaps just beginning to learn to walk! Here's the quote on this page: “Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea.” When I'm near the sea I might almost hear this whispering in the waves. And here, on the prairie, in the dry autumn grass. Patience itself, when practiced, is its own gift. Here again at Providence, I remember that the practice of patience will be the foundation of a fruitful retreat.
It's chilly and breezy but more springlike now in the fall than it was during a late spring snow on my last retreat here six months ago. At home I've been studying an intense book on the Four Noble Truths. The impact of too much thinking about that book lingered, producing too much forceful effort in my first sit, too much pent up desire for the very peace I was seeking. Then, thankfully, an evening talk from Bhante that reminds us of the breath and the practice of patience, beginning again and again. The knots loosened a little inside. Nothing to be. Nowhere to go. In the next sit I begin by reminding myself of why I'm here: To live by what I value. To move in the direction of peace, harmony, harmlessness, happiness and joy. To behave more skillfully. Taking care of this little life, one moment at a time, trusting to the natural flow of the results outward into the world.
It's a cycle. Cultivating a happy mind leads to more concentration, more serenity. And out of that serenity grows more patience and more joy. I read a comment by an abbot somewhere who said “An unhappy monk thinks.” Or could it be, I wonder, that a thinking monk is unhappy? There's a tangle I won't think about. The abbot's words were spoken about monastics but descriptive of lay practitioners as well. So much of my own unhappiness is the result of getting caught in whirlpools of thinking. A difficult habit pattern to break. Yet, experience shows me that happiness leads to less thinking; less thinking leads to more happiness. Seems counter-intuitive to those of us trained to think, persuaded of the value of analysis and conceptualization. A slightly disturbing surprise to notice the link between a quiet mind and peace.
I wonder if the grand accomplishment of practice for me in this lifetime is cultivating physical stillness, for this has become a place I slide into with ease very often. The breath an anchor as I fall into deep stretches of calm, clear mind. But inevitably even within this still body, the mind strays to its old patterns from time to time. I laughed at myself to find that a contemplation of death today led to elaborate planning of the kind of memorial I'd like. A still body is a good place to begin though, giving mind a model, and choosing to respond with patience to its play.
I believe that the fruits of practice are contagious, and that it is not only me who benefits from my practice. “Leaving for another dimension”, I said to my husband as I left the house this morning. We both laughed, yet what I practice here in this gift of space and time and silence is what I wish to carry with me back to the ordinary plane where I live.