Tuesday, 21 April 2009

What is Patience?

The age-old quote says that ‘Patience is a virtue’. Yes, generally speaking, we agree on that, though many people would say that being too patient has its downfall. But what is patience actually?

Patience is often associated with waiting, pain endurance, or perseverance. My focus on this post is patience related to waiting and perseverance, though mere ‘waiting’ itself often has a large dose of agony in it...

One of Dictionary.com definition for ‘patience’ is:

“Capable of calmly awaiting an outcome or result; not hasty or impulsive”

By that definition alone, one of my best friends was correct: I am not patient. I often rush to doing something… or deciding something without carefully considering all related factors; in the name of ‘rapid response’ and ‘tactical thinking’. The result was often not to be proud of… if not total mayhem. Most definitely I am not suited for jobs like private detectives that requires my sitting for hours inside a dark-coloured car, or as a metahuman superhero who lurks around dark roofs, waiting for the evil doers to do their utterly out of sense deeds. Forget about knocking the door of the Batcave and ask for a part-time job; Batman wouldn’t even want to see me.

But patience is not only needed by those detectives and vigilantes. Patience is needed in almost all aspects of life. There is a difference between patience and sluggish, and it relates to our intentions when doing the waiting. Sluggishness happens when we know very well that we need to be quick and prompt in our actions and responses, and yet we do not do that anyway.

Patience… we know we want something and we work towards it. One by one, one small step by one small step. And when the time comes… Strike! And we win!

Just like those old martial artisans who patiently wait upon his enemies… waiting for them to make the first move. Ever watch Musashi? Great old movie. You should watch the last duel between Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro. Classic.

But is patience always about winning?... Does it not have a deeper quality? The Zen-like quality that makes you smile from within, for you know it is good for your personal growth? Let me take you back to an event this morning, where I was floating on a little boat in the middle of the sea, waiting patiently for my dolphins to appear nearby me.

More than four dozen small boats were milled around me… as if they churned the ocean like that, the dolphins would appear from the water vortex. They did… the dolphins… appear for like 40-50 seconds before disappearing again. My boatman did nothing though ; just letting the boat afloat with the engine off. Then, out of the blue… the dolphins came to us.

We were elated, excited! They came!

… and then they left again, for as soon as they appeared, more than ten boats sped towards them. And once again, we were alone without the dolphins.

The event kept repeating itself until the boats got tired of the game and left the arena. Soon, there were only five of us, little boats floating at the big blue sea.

And then… one little dolphin jumped. Followed by another. And another. And soon… we found ourselves watching the dolphins feasting on their breakfast: juicy frigate mackerels… while we rummaged for our old boring snack to eat as we watch the dolphins. The snack was boring indeed… but the show was worth the wait.

So… coming back to my original question. What is Patience?

Now I see patience as one of the qualities or characters of alertness…awareness. It is one of the outcomes of awareness, of being alert and just BE in present moment. The Indonesian word for patience is ‘sabar’… and there is another word similar to that. ‘Disabar-sabarin’. Meaning, forcing oneself to be patient, though he/she is really truly yours faithfully NOT patient. A nice concept… which most definitely does not stem out of awareness, alertness. ‘Disabar-sabarin’ or ‘restraining yourself’ has the quality of insincerity, or at the very least mere obedience. You do not want to be patient, but you have to… otherwise a disaster will not be avoidable.

Interestingly, the very Indonesian word for ‘awareness’ or ‘being mindful’ is ‘sadar’. Sabar and Sadar. We only exchange B for D… and the whole context is different. Sabar (patience) to me is the product of Sadar (awareness). There can be no real patience without awareness.

Coming back to the example of dolphin watching, those who opt to turn off their engine and just wait for the dolphins to appear would often see that the dolphins would then appear and either approach them or swim alongside their boat. In this case, they are patient because they know that if they keep churning the waters with their noisy 12 PK outboard engine, the dolphins will unlikely appear for a significant amount of time for them to enjoy. Their awareness of the dolphin’s need of sufficient space and security lead them to turn off their engine and wait. Patiently.

And what do we do when we’re waiting patiently? We can chat with our travel mates, or talk with the boatman… or enjoy the picturesque sceneries… Or we can just sit down with straight back, relax, close our eyes… Then we breathe in and breathe out….enjoying the morning sun on our face, looking inwards to our own hearts.

Then, out of the silence, we hear that very familiar noise of ‘whoof, whoof’. The dolphin’s breathing. We open our eyes happily, knowing that they are here to see us. That they are here to grant us with their presence, thanking us for our patience.

And then we can allow ourselves a few moments of victory our patience brought us. The victory against our own impatience.

Then, what if the dolphins never come? Then, we will return home, knowing that at least we have exercised a good amount of aware waiting here… and that tomorrow we can do it again, until we see them one day. For we know that they are there to meet us… when we are ready to meet them with an open heart.

Pic 1: Siam Reap, Bayon moat. That’s my picture, by the way…
Pic 2: Batman and the dolphins! From Detective Comics #405, from Random Panels.com
Pic 3: Buddha's peace within, from Infinite Smile.org

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