Every day of your life, you are likely to come up against people and things that irritate you. You may even be very good at irritating yourself with dark or distressing thoughts. After all, the mind is very hard to control.
This is where patience comes in. Patience is like the suspension on a car, the thing that bridges the gap between where a vehicle’s momentum, and the shape of the ground it is travelling on. You are travelling through the world, and you have a sense of direction. The problem is, the world is unlikely to match your chosen direction with smooth paths. When the path stops being smooth, your body notices.
This reaction, of noticing when things are difficult, is good. It would be hard to function without an alarm system that told you when there are obstructions to attend to. However, if we treat those obstructions as personal insults, we suffer. Here are some tips for becoming more patient, and therefore suffering less.
MAKE YOUR FIRST REACTION A NOTICING REACTION – When annoying things happen, don’t start with an angry reaction. That will just make it worse. Start with noticing, to yourself, what your own reaction is. Even just saying to yourself ‘ouch!’ acknowledges the pain, and stops it flowing outwards to others and making the situation worse.
FIND WHAT SPACE YOU CAN – When an animal (and you are an animal) is trapped, it tends to react violently. But, if you are luckly enough to live in a free society, you are not often really trapped. Finding space to be is like finding suspension. You are giving the pressure a break. So leave the room, or the building, if you need to. It may be better than saying something you might regret.
CHANGE YOUR STORY – For instance, if you are stuck behind someone in a queue, create a reason why it’s good to be still. Notice the people, or the architecture. If you change the story, you change your expectation, and therefore your attitude. When I am counselling, my sincere story is that I want to hear about my clients’ lives and their suffering, and to be with them in their struggle. This transforms the situation into a positive one, however dark the things I may hear.
If you want an example of this, watch a patient adult tending to a suffering child. They will often share a gentle, empathic exclamation acknowledging the child’s experience, such as ‘oh dear!’ or ‘oops!’ Then they may seek to reduce the pressure on the child by finding a comfortable place to sit and be. Finally, they may chat with the child until the child finds a happy way of interpreting the situation.
As adults, we have to do this for ourselves sometimes.
And when we can do it for others, it can be the foundation of good counselling.