Patience means not retaliating with anger for anger, or harm for harm, and voluntarily bearing up under difficulties in order to progress on the path of spiritual awakening. How do we actually do this? How do we slow down our conditioned, knee-jerk reactions while speeding up and sharpening our conscious, mindful, moment-to-moment, awareness? How do we broaden the gap between stimulus and response so that we have time to give the situation a proper amount of consideration? This takes clarity, resolve, meditation, and practice.
I call this gap the Sacred Pause, because it is the only possible source of peace and harmony in our interactions with people or events. By consciously minding and utilizing the Sacred Pause, we can master ourselves and assert leverage over our clumsy, semiconscious, often unwarranted conditioned reactions. Begin the process by taking a deep breath, smiling, and relaxing.
Much of the accumulated pressure and tension may begin to dissipate right away, thus providing more space and clarity for mindful work. Breathe, smile, relax, and center yourself. Then apply what I call the Six Steps to Anger Management, which also could be called steps to mindfulness, freedom, and authentic responsiveness. Collectively, they are like cool, fresh breaths of mindful awareness that can help you let go of negativity and keep you from falling into regrettable outcomes. To remember these steps, think of them as the six R’s:
- Recognizing: Noticing with objective equanimity a familiar stimulus—like harsh words—that pushes a hot button for you, triggering an unskillful retaliatory response.
- Recollecting: remembering the disadvantages of returning anger with anger, negative with negative, and the advantages of practicing patience, forbearance, tolerance, and acceptance.
- Refraining by restraining and reframing: seeing things from alternative points of view, including that of your antagonist (if the situation involves a button-pushing person); cultivating compassion; acknowledging the law of karma (what goes around comes around); and considering the situation an opportunity to develop patience or the person a teacher who can help you do this.
- Relinquishing: letting go of habitual reactivity and impulsive urges in favor of more consciously chosen and intelligent courses of action.
- Reconditioning: Going back over what you have done and learned so far—the entire dynamic—to help you substitute a healthier response process for your old knee-jerk conditioning. Repetition is crucial.
- Responding: Addressing the person or situation patiently, appropriately, intelligently, and proactively (rather than reactively). Let spiritual intelligence be your guide.
Applying the Six Steps of Anger Management is an adult version of kindergarten’s counting to ten in order to give yourself time to think before you act. Keep in mind that it is not other people or external circumstances that determine our karma, our character, our experience, and our destiny. It is how we relate to these other people and circumstances that makes all the difference. It is not what happens to us but what we make of it that makes all the difference; this is the secret of autonomy and spiritual self-mastery. The gift of patience is truly the gift of yourself, but not in any way that diminishes you, the giver. Instead, you share your strength with someone and become stronger yourself in the process.
Please keep in mind these wise words on patience from the Dalai Lama: When we talk about patience or tolerance, we should understand that there are many degrees, starting from a simple tolerance, such as being able to bear a certain amount of heat and cold, progressing toward the highest level of patience, which is the type of patience and tolerance found in the great practitioners, the bodhisattvas. One should not see tolerance of patience as a sign of weakness, but rather as a sign of strength coming from a deep ability to remain steadfast and firm. We find that even in being able to tolerate a certain degree of physical hardship, like a hot or cold climate, out attitude makes a big difference.