I have just finished reading Patience: The Art of Peaceful Living, by Allan Lokos, the founder and guiding teacher of the Community Meditation Center in New York City. It's a timely read for a season in which the stresses seem to multiply in direct proportion to the peace and joy we're supposed to be feeling -- and too often, don't!
In many ways, the book is a very readable course in Buddhism 101, a primer in Buddhist thought and practice for those who will value the introduction; it is also an important refresher course for those of us who have been practicing for a while -- and who recognize that it's still, and always, about "beginner's mind." Patience is at the very heart of Buddhist practice: without it the noble Eightfold Path would be impracticable for even the most ardent of its followers. A wise and, yes, patient guide, Lokos leads his readers through the benefits of patience with, first, ourselves and then with others in our personal and professional relationships. He offers the inspiration of notable exemplars, and includes not only the words of wisdom of great teachers in the Buddhist tradition, but also simple, do-able exercises and practices to help us along the way.
Patience is not an easy virtue, particularly in today's world where we rush about our daily lives and readily succumb to the siren call of multi-tasking -- at the cost of our peace of mind and happiness. I observe the suffering I create for myself when the traffic backs up on the freeway, when my computer fails to perform in conformance to my expectations or needs, when those around me make demands on my time and energies that I am reluctant to share. I watch the feelings of anger and frustration that arise when I don't get what I want exactly when I want it. (Lokos includes appendices with useful lists of keywords to identify those fleeting feelings and other sources of stress; being mindful of them is helpful way to avoid the reactive patterns that contribute to our suffering without our knowing it.) When spoken in impatience, my words not only cause others to suffer, they do nothing to alleviate my own. Impatience takes a heavy toll, on my body, too, manifesting in the form of headaches or belly aches, fatigue, and general physical discomfort.
Patience is a thoughtful and always interesting book, and one that engages our attention. It challenges many of the assumptions and misconceptions we have about ourselves and the world we live in, reminding us that there is always another side to every view. It invites us to do the hard work of continuous mindfulness, and offers us the means to find release from self-inflicted (and other-inflicted) pain. As its subtitle and its final chapter suggest, "peaceful living" is indeed an "art" that can be learned through mindful practice -- a valuable lesson to all who seek surcease from the stress we bring, often unconsciously, upon ourselves. As The Beatles sang, memorably, many years ago, "we all want to change the world." Patience would be a terrific place to start -- not to mention an excellent New Year's resolution!