January 31, 2010

Patience and Practice

So, we were talking about patience last Wednesday night after Zazen, that very virtue we don't like to hear about and don't want to think about having to practice. We all want to have things go a certain way - our way - and being patient means we might not get what we want. Thus, we interfere and hustle things along aiming for the prize.

The topic came about because of the state of the nation speech. It had seemed to me that our president had been in office only a short while when we were demanding that he turn this massive engine around and make change that he alone was not responsible for making. Change requires that the whole machine respond in new ways. It doesn't happen quickly. Not only that, he was having to make change under the most severe circumstances. The surplus we had only eight years ago was turned into a 1.3 trillion deficit. Slowly his popularity began to decrease as the changes were not happening as quickly as people thought they should and in face of a congress drowning in its own rigidity. I couldn't help but feel sorry for the man, our president, on whom we had heaped such unreasonable and immediate expectation. How could one human, with all the entrenched and complex problems we face, turn this condition around....in such a short time! Our national impatience, our immaturity as a nation, our childish demands seem to tear at our ability to take the time to look at our condition and to allow wisdom, rather than impetuousness and impatience, inform our choices.

Then, in Haiti there was another face related to patience. This was the face of hunger and desperation and yet calmness in waiting on line for food. There was the face of sharing food even when there was so little. It was only a handful of ruffians that fought over food. The media loves to follow this kind of behavior. Most of the people were deeply patient and respectful of others. There were the faces of those pulled out of the rubble even after 15 days without any light, or human hope that they would be found. Imagine lying in the rubble and barely moving for all that time, still breathing and wondering if anyone at all would find you. Buried alive. Stomach shriveled. There is profound patience under such constraint. Or, the amputees lying in the field hospitals in extreme heat just waiting. Most will have no place to return to. This is a nation of patience that in many ways can't afford too much of it because of the desperate need to prevent more catastrophe through disease and floods. They must act decisively while being profoundly patient at the same time.

Patience is one of the important virtues developed in training in Zen practice. Impatience, we learn, is related to the poisons of hate, arrogance, flattery and foolishness. If we are skillful in our lives, we can see this in action. We can observe when hate/anger, arrogance/pride, flattery/greed, foolishness/ignorance creep into our actions and interactions. They may appear in subtle ways, small things that muddy the clear field, "the virtuous garden far beyond form and emptiness." They make for muddy waters.

We can remain Present in order to see through this mud that appears, because in life we are given so much opportunity for practice in mud. It seems as if we dwell in mud and yet the choice to practice in clarity is the lotus itself popping its pure blossom above the bog. Presence, remaining present in all we do is the very practice of patience. When we are Present, we are not rushing our lives, not pushing and driving ourselves forward. We are well paced and easy. We are at leisure in each moment, fully aware of our relatedness, our connectedness.

And, it seems to me urgent that we practice patience most deeply these days as our nation is in desperate need of developing a maturity of action and purpose so that we can truly act with wisdom, compassion and integrity in this suffering world. Being Present and aware is our practice.