Patience, a potent medicine

by Rosalie Dores on 11th December 2015

Often when people take part in the eight-week MBSR course they experience a tremendous amount of restlessness when lying down in the body scan. This becomes apparent as they share with the group that the body scan is, “Too long” and/or, “Boring”. While both of these experiences are valid in and of themselves, they also point to the fact that it is so difficult for us to be still, and spend time with ourselves for any extended period. Our contemporary way of life with it’s 24/7 entertainment and distraction mean that our nervous systems are highly stimulated for most of the time, texting, emailing, listening to personal stereos, watching the TV, playing games, let alone all the dynamics of being in relationships and the demands and responsibilities that go with being alive. Our nervous systems are so activated, that when we stop, the nervous system just keeps ‘firing’, and this feels uncomfortable, we feel restless, agitated. We need to ‘do’ something!!!

In response to these expressions of discomfort with the body scan, I often ask students if they experience situations in life, that just seem to go on too long, or that are boring or unsatisfactory. Of course they reply that they have, we all have, haven’t we? There are times in life that are difficult, it rains for a week, both literally and metaphorically, we wish that it would be otherwise, and yet what can we do. Bound by the rope of circumstance, we can struggle and get rope burn, or we can learn to accept the way things are, to be with the experience, to do rain.

The body scan, and the other mindfulness practices that we engage with on the eight-week MBSR course are opportunities to practice ‘being with’ experience. For this we need the attitudinal foundation of patience. We engage with the practice, and learn, initially to tolerate, and then get curious about the sensations of restlessness and agitation that arise, we are not pushed around by them. This is a powerful, and empowering practice. In practising in this way again and again, we calm the body/mind inviting greater health and well-being, while reducing the corrosive impact of stress. We are not pushed around by every urge and unpleasant sensation that we experience, thereby experiencing greater freedom and choice.

So we continue, to cultivate patience kindly and persistently. We cultivate this in our practice, and engender this capacity in our wider lives, with others, with ourselves,  with all the unanswered questions, with all the unresolved dilemmas, relationships and situations in our lives, with the uncertainties, that are just plain uncertain, and with change, both welcome and unwelcome. Patience is a highly valued quality, we have all heard the old adage ‘Patience is a virtue’, my Yogi teabags have wise little sayings on their paper tags, and proclaim that ‘In the depths of patience we find peace’, and this has truth in it. When we can be patient, allow things to be the way they are, we find ‘a measure’ of peace, with pleasant, with neutral and with the unpleasant. We don’t struggle, ‘as much’, with things.

The poet Rainer Marie Rilke spoke to this in this Letters to a Young Poet:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Live the questions, live the restlessness, live the boredom… live, live, live.