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Patience: A Mindful Response to Things Gone Wrong

This fall, I suffered a couple of personal setbacks. A creative project I’ve been working on for several years got derailed. And at home, one of my teenage kids ran into a rough patch, which made me feel that I was failing as a parent.

A wave of despair rose up inside of me. Years of effort and dedication delivered me to a pointless end, like a train going off the rails when the tracks suddenly end in the middle of nowhere.

I stayed in that place, sinking into a quicksand of sadness and depression. How could I transcend it, pull myself out of this wreckage?

I reminded myself of all the blessings I’ve been given - a loving partner, kids who still give me so much joy, a stable job amidst the pandemic, good health, baruch ha-Shem. But those words spoke to reason, not to the heart. The heart stayed in the darkness.

That wasn’t the way. Not for me, at least. Then in meditation, I let myself loose, allowing myself to feel exactly what I was feeling - sad, disappointed, desperate. It was there - sadness, and all that came with it - undeniably there. Recognizing it, not pushing it away, helped me to begin to detach. The sadness was there, but it wasn’t all of me, it didn’t hold all of me.

Reading a new book by the Zen teacher Tenshin Reb Anderson on the six paramita practices, methods to train to awaken oneself, something caught my eye. These practices, which literally mean ‘going beyond’, could be interpreted as going beyond suffering, something I felt acutely, but also transcending our ideas of ourselves. Practicing paramitas, the book suggested, could liberate one from the maze of ignorance and misery to a place of serenity, and initiate the right action in response. One mindful practice that spoke to me was kshanthi paramita, the perfection of patience.

Patience, as Tenshin Anderson explains, “is not attempting to control our experience, . . . [by] trying to get away from physical and emotional discomfort. It is the ability to sit calmly in the center of all suffering.” Patience allows us to respond to a difficult situation in a kind, flexible, and skillful way. It is not an invitation to sit passively and do nothing.

So what if my project hit a brick wall? Maybe I should approach it from a fresh angle, redo it in a way that will get through the wall, or around the wall?

So what if a child makes a mistake, detrimental as it might be at the moment? Long-term, making mistakes is often the best way to learn. And I’ll still need to be there to help them find their own way to resolve the issue.

Both situations will require patience and time to work through.