"Being angry and wanting to be peaceful all of a sudden doesn't usually work. If we're about to blow up, the best thing to do is just sit there, settle, breathe. The best technique may well be patience." - Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
I have been contemplating the paramita of patience all week, as the facebook page for Parenting as Path attests. Patience (or ahem, a lack of patience) is a daily theme for me, felt more keenly with the care of young children. The teachings on patience in the buddhist tradition are rich, and often focus on the quality of forbearance, which I don't find necessarily useful. It is a word that has such negative connotations, with more than a hint of martyrdom. I prefer to see it as acceptance, radical acceptance, as teacher Tara Brach describes it. Being present to what is occurring, and instead of trying to manipulate, change or escape it, to relax, let go and open.
It can be so hard to do this with our children, particularly when they are pushing our buttons, not doing what we want them to do, or testing boundaries. Who knew that simply attempting to get a young toddler ready to go outside to play could be such a stressful experience at times?! Or getting your child ready for school, or to do their homework, to go to bed, or to be integrity with their curfew? So many things can trigger our impatience, but I have found that fundamentally, impatience has to do with an unwillingness to just be there, leaning into what is happening in the present moment, no matter how uncomfortable it is. When I am impatient with others, it is almost always because rather than opening to what is occurring, I am stuck in the past or projecting myself out into the future. How exhausting. No wonder I get snippy.
Cultivating patience with our children means that we notice when we are relating to them from the past or from the future rather than the now. We notice when we are speaking from anxiety and a sense of what should be happening, and then let it go and open to what is actually occurring. It means leaning into the discomfort, the fear, the aggression - leaning all the way until we can open to the still, tender spot that is always at the center of even these painful emotions. Cultivating patience also means nourishing ourselves so that we have the space to relate skillfully to others. Maybe this means going to bed earlier so you have more energy in the morning when things are more intense getting everyone ready for school. Or perhaps it means taking the time when your children are napping to rest yourself, or eat a nice snack, or watch an episode of a show you like. The other day, our schedule got really wonky and my children would not nap. My husband was working very late, so I knew I would not get any break until they were asleep that night. I was a bit at my wits end, as I can't get much done or relax when they are both up and grouchy from being overtired. I drew a bubble bath with some soothing lavender oil, and put them and myself into it. I let them splash and play while I also got to relax a bit. Then I let them help me make butterscotch pudding, which we ate together after our dinner. The kitchen and bathroom ended up being a total mess, but it was worth it. The bath and the pudding cheered all of us up and helped us enjoy the rest of the day together, although we were all very tired.
Part of being patient is being resourceful, creating space even in the most claustrophobic situation. That is why the recommendation for times when you are feeling impatient is to stop, get still, and just breathe. By bringing our minds back into our bodies in the present moment, we open to the vast space that is always available to us. It can be difficult to do this when we get caught up in impatience, feeling justified to keep pushing rather than stepping back. But the more we can just take a step back from our impatience, resynchronize our bodies and minds, the easier it will be to accomplish what needs to be done. I think another important aspect of this all is having confidence that you can do it - that you can actually let go, open and relax. That you can be patient. Sometimes, we get on such a roll with a habitual pattern that we begin to distrust we can do anything differently. I am here to tell you that you can! Every habitual pattern can be transformed. Every time we let go and relax, we are weakening the hold impatience has on us and our families.