Not true! Patience is not a prerequisite. Most committed meditators have logged in many hours of impatience and restlessness--have become convinced their timer has malfunctioned or they’d forgotten to set it; have taken a break ‘just for a second’ to jot down an earthshaking insight or deal with a VERY IMPORTANT task; have answered the phone because it might be something urgent; have gotten up to put the cat out, let the cat in, check to see if perhaps the cat might be thinking of going out--whatever! Sitting still--minute after minute after minute--is enough to make anyone buggy at times.
With steady practice, though, one learns the ploys of a restless spirit and becomes less apt to snatch the bait. Gradually, one learns to rest within the stillness, even to rest beneath the agitation.
And so this myth does contain a truth. One needs to be patient with the overall process. Remember, this is a relationship like any other--the relationship between you and your meditation practice, between you and Spirit. It will take a while to recognize, and learn how to effectively cope with, the various strategies of a rambunctious disposition.
What’s important is having a method to work with impatience. In an earlier post, Myths #1, March 3rd, 2008, I discussed helpful ways to conceive of a meandering mind. Since restlessness is to the emotions what a wandering mind is to the intellect, the view I shared in that essay will work here as well, and I refer you back to it. To see your impatience as an expression of the ceaselessly creative universal force may help you be, well, more patient with your impatience. Gentler. Restlessness really is just the stuff of being human.
But other than having a helpful way of conceptualizing such basic human traits, what can you do? The first task is to pull back from judging. Truly, what would make you conclude you should not be impatient? Assuming you were raised in mainstream Western culture, you have had little encouragement to be still. Everything is fast-paced and oh, so busy. Stimulation abounds. Never a dull moment. Until you sit down to meditate, that is.
So, an individual who has been surrounded by busyness, infused with busyness, sits down for half an hour to meditate. How do you suppose such a person will react? If your answer is that they’d be delighted as the silence stretched out ad infinitum, you’d likely be wrong!
We human beings are quite the hoot. We seem to assume that whatever struggle we’re having is some sort of aberration, and that the rest of the human race sails through such waters with hardly a ripple. Even when we know better intellectually, we still respond as though we’re defective.
And if you give that tendency full sway, you will expand a smallish difficulty into a big ISSUE. You will not only feel impatient, but will feel inferior about feeling impatient! At the very least you’ll feel impatient with your impatience! And then, well, you might as well give up meditation all together because why bother, you’re hopeless! Obviously, not a helpful process!
But lets say, just for argument’s sake, that you are particularly impatient, more so than most. So what?!! One thing about sitting in silence is that it will likely bring up whatever entanglements you have. That very patient person you know? Sit him in silence for an extended period of time, day after day, and his issues, whatever they might be, will rise to the surface just as certainly as do yours. If you already know your challenge is impatience, congratulations! You’re just that much farther along.
Don’t turn this proclivity into something so big you’ll sabotage the whole endeavor. When we clamp down on a tendency such as this, we concretize it. What could have been a momentary, passing impatience becomes something we KNOW about ourselves, now and for all time. Instead of feeling fidgety at a particular moment, you may begin to view yourself as AN IMPATIENT PERSON. Case closed. Obviously, this is not true. Even someone with more than their share of impatience is not impatient every moment of every day. Repeatedly reinforcing a stereotype will give it so much more power, and will make it more difficult to see yourself with all your gradations, nuance, and rich textures.
So, now that we’ve cut this predilection down to size, what can you do about it? There are several techniques you might find helpful. And these can be applied to a wandering mind as well.
~~You can simply note the impatience and return to a concentrative technique--focusing on the rise and fall of your chest, counting each breath, repeating a mantra, etc. This method assumes that, in that moment and over time, withdrawing your precious energy will dissipate whatever emotional reaction you’re having. As often as it arises, just that often can you decide not to feed it, choose to disengage.
~~You can simply watch the impatience, noting where it’s centered in your body, it’s quality, its moment to moment alterations. Neither jumping in nor moving away, you let it be. Most often, something will change. Thoughts, feelings, and reactions tend to be quite fluid, seldom remaining the same for long. Without the story line, your experience can simply be what it is, thereby allowing for the possibility of change.
~~You can welcome Spirit in. Allow Spirit to enter you, let it permeate each cell of your body, each fragment of your soul--including, of course, the impatience. Turn the restlessness over to Spirit. Don’t grasp it so tightly; give it away, perhaps just for this instant. Ask Spirit to attend to it, while you let go into richness of the moment. Obviously, this works best for those who conceive of meditation as a communion with Spirit. You touch Spirit simply as you are, impatience and all. No need to be shy. No need to be other than you are. Just show up and give yourself--yes, all of you--to Spirit.
Over time, each of these approaches will teach experientially that we are more than our fleeting reactions. But these are just some ideas. If restlessness is your issue, you can also ask directly for guidance on how best to respond. Then be still and listen. Whether it’s Spirit or intuition that answers, you’ll likely get a nudge in one direction or another. Honor it. Follow it.
Months may pass before you find a rhythm that translates into a more accepting, calmer approach to meditation. Allow yourself this time to settle in. Trust the process. Trust your process. If you have felt ‘called’ to meditate, trust that the appropriate skills and attitude will come to you. Give yourself a chance to discover that this is, indeed, true.
May we each show up in our meditation practice, in our lives, simply as we are, and come to accept the inevitability of our blossoming, trusting and allowing the Essence within us to flower.
PS. For other Meditation Myths and Half-Truths in this series, please click on Myth #1, Myth #3, and Myth #4. I'd love to hear about your experiences!