Practicing Patience, Imperturbably
I would expect my loving-kindness meditation to be shot through with the essence of patience, but so far in my daily devotions patience is nearly absent. It shows up first under the topic May I Be a Safe and Mindful Driver, to wit: “May I allow ample time to reach my appointments,” And again under May I Be Well: “May I be a good friend to my memory, honoring it with patience and forbearance.”
As to the former, it avoids a negative framework, such as “I will not be late.” Loving-kindness demands positive declarations, even when the goal is eliminating a negative. And merely saying “I will keep my appointments” seems a trifle bald.
And as to the latter, I’m striving to honor my memory--which not so long ago seemed quite excellent for a person my age--with gratitude, encouragement and an open door to what might be called great expectations. Though I have been known lately to refer to my memory in exasperation as “dodgy,” such terminology has no place in a practice devoted to encouraging the recovery of important capacities.(1)
These two references seem minuscule during a session that lasts from 45 minutes to an hour. But recent additions to my devotions--both suggested in recent epistles--demand increased commitment to patience.
I wanted to get cozy with my soul, but quickly realized that I lack a clear concept of what I mean--or might mean--when I say ‘my soul.’
Let’s look first at the addition to May I Be Loved, in which I have begun asking that all those who are or have been estranged “find a path that leads through estrangement toward reconciliation with their souls,” and also that I be invited to reconcile with my soul. Upon formulating this wish, I discovered two profound effects on me, effects that seem implacably opposed to each other. I wanted to get cozy with my soul, but I quickly realized that I lack a clear concept of what I mean--or might mean--when I say “my soul.” This is a source of confusion, yet every time I repeat this invocation it stirs a deeply intuitive sense that this must be the right path for me. Here’s where patience comes in. I have to trust my intuition, let it play out daily and see where it leads. Where I think it might be headed is in a direction noted by one of my heroes, James Hillman, who claimed to have "shifted the focus of Jung's psychology from individuation to 'soul-making.''' (2) (3) I intend to follow this path because my heart tells me it’s right. Somewhere down the road I hope this patience will reward me. Failing that, I will start the search for a new direction.
So, what was the second topic that calls for patience? Oh, yes, my quest for a safe harbor, detailed in the previous epistle. This task seems more straightforward, for it does not require me to become a contortionist to pursue the goal. I found a framework for a Safe Harbor meditation in the instructions for a walking meditation put forth by Thich Naht Hanh. I have made two changes. First, I started to do the walking meditation daily. Second, I inserted the quest for a safe harbor in place of another unit in my loving-kindness set.
I decided to drop the portion called May I Be at Peace and replace it with May I Find a Safe Harbor. It’s not that I’m abandoning the quest for peace, or even that I regard the search for a Safe Harbor as more imperative. No, I feel an understanding of peace that is not yet inherent in focusing on the Safe Harbor. Every time I reach the section of Safe Harbors, it goes differently. Sometimes I resolve to make a change, but usually I have forgotten the change by the end of the session.
I want a multi-purpose Safe Harbor. Yes, I want it to protect me from the conscious stress and obsessions of the day. I also seek refuge from stresses that have slipped from my everyday consciousness but can still be evoked by events of the day. And yes, I believe that I am still affected--well past my three-score and ten--by events occurring prior to my attaining consciousness--even though my understanding of them is speculative and indirect.
So here’s where patience comes in. I don’t have to tame the Safe Harbor meditation as if breaking a wild horse. I can experience it in all the guises it chooses. Eventually, I hope it will become calm, at home with the neighboring planks of my loving-kindness practice, and we will set out together on a new path.
You might wonder what exactly I seek in meditation. It is not necessarily happiness. The teachers I revere most warn against that. One of them, Pema Chödrön, wrote in her book, The Pocket Pema Chödrön: “When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You're able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, and aggression. You develop an enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And, you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently.”
May I use my loving-kindness practice to pursue these goals.
1. Are you listening, Memory? Oh, for once I hope not! I mean this to characterize my actual behavior, but I still must apologize for this affront and seek your forgiveness.
2. This is contained in an article I found on the web that I simultaneously find compelling and opaque. I will have to dwell with it for a while and hope to absorb it by osmosis and by looking into the references cited by the author.. If you want to get a jump on me, here’s the link:: http://www.cgjungpage.org/learn/articles/book-reviews/890-this-talk-of-soul-what-does-it-mean
3. I hope it helps to note that the Merriam-Webster online thesaurus pairs estrange and reconcile as antonyms.