How to survive a traffic jam—on the road, or in the heart
In a frustrating situation, it helps to ask ourselves the question, “What would being patient mean right now?” We can explore what happens to our relationship to our experience when we find ourselves rushing around, always anticipating the next moment, the next event. The more we practice patience, the more time we find we have. Perhaps we’ve become accustomed to eating so fast we don’t even taste our food. Asking ourselves this question slows us down enough to appreciate receiving our food—receiving our life. Gratitude and contentment arise. Many of us try to do so many things at once that there is no space for serenity. We wonder why we are unhappy, why we feel alienated. We just need to remember to practice relaxing into our life, in all its joys and sorrows, and to relinquish the need to know what’s going to happen next.
Acceptance of the Truth
The third aspect of patience, acceptance of the truth, means that we accept our experience as it is—with all its suffering—rather than how we want it to be. We recognize that because our experience is continually changing, we don’t need it to be different than it is. This acceptance of “things as they are” requires profound wisdom and compassion, which take a long time to evolve; we must therefore develop a long-enduring mind that will enable us to understand time from a radically new perspective. As we come to this understanding, we gain the strength to be present for the long haul, and we are less likely to get caught in being overly insistent, frustrated, and demanding.
There is great power in patience because it cuts through arrogance and ingratitude. It is the path that lets us move from resistance to acceptance and spontaneous presence. Holding on to our judgments about others and ourselves is a major cause of impatience. Repeating softly to ourselves, “May I be happy just as I am” and “May I be peaceful with whatever is happening” helps us accept our vulnerabilities, imperfections, and losses: everything from chronic physical and emotional pain, to the death of loved ones, the end of a job or relationship—even nightmare traffic jams.
By accepting the agreeable and disagreeable aspects of life, we are no longer limited by our longing for life to be different than it is. We have all the time in the world, in the spaciousness of every moment.
Michele McDonald has practiced Vipassana and metta meditation since 1975 and has been teaching meditation worldwide since 1982. She is guiding teacher of Vipassana Hawaii. Quotes from Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva, © 2002 by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and New Kadampa Tradition. Reprinted with permission of Tharpa Publications, www.tharpa.com.
Image 1: “Wijdenes—Appels" (Detail), © 2000 by Ellen Kooi. 151 x 88 cm, Edition 8. Courtesy Torch Gallery, Amsterdam