I'm not a Buddhist, but I've learned much from Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist nun who teaches at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, the first Tibetan monastery established in North America for Westerners. Earlier today I turned to "Patience" in Comfortable with Uncertainty, a collection of Chödrön's short teachings compiled and edited by Emily Hillburn Sell.
I spent a good bit of time in traffic this weekend to deliver some important papers that needed to be signed to a swanky hotel south of San Francisco, planning to return to pick them up today. Under different circumstances I would have used a courier service, but for a variety of reasons, that wasn't feasible. The papers were received, signed by the recipient, left at the front desk for me, and promptly lost by the swank hotel. (Sound of teeth grinding.) It's not a disaster--I have copies--but I must begin the process all over again, and the delay will cause some difficulty.
The power of the paramita [a quality leading to enlightenment] of patience is that it is the antidote to anger, a way to learn to love and care for whatever we meet on the path. By patience, we do not mean enduring--grin and bear it. In any situation, instead of reacting suddenly, we could chew it, smell it, look at it, and open ourselves to seeing what's there. The opposite of patience is aggression--the desire to jump and move, to push against our lives, to try to fill up space. The journey of patience involves relaxing, opening to what's happening, experiencing a sense of wonder...
As we train in the paramita of patience, we are first of all patient with ourselves. We learn to relax with the restlessness of our energy--the energy of anger, boredom, and excitement. Patience takes courage. It is not an ideal state of calm. In fact, when we practice patience, we will see our agitation far more clearly.
So I practiced patience. I emailed my colleague: "I'm taking the Buddhist view--I had an amazing fish taco [on my long drive] and took this photo during a stop at Crystal Springs. Papers get lost, life's too short, etc."
And lo and behold, the Minor Deity of Paperwork saw my patience and responded--the swanky hotel just called--"We found them!" I'm happy--found paperwork is better than lost paperwork. But the temporary loss gave me an opportunity to reflect on the blessings of the day, on the initial source of my impatience, on why I found myself in this situation in the first place, and I learned a hell of a lot more than I would have otherwise.