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The Map of the Soul

articles on the nature of the human mind

By S.M. Zakir Hussain (Bangladesh)

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The Mystery and Power of Patience


In the very beginning, let me tell you that nobody who wants to have patience in order to cultivate a virtue by following others have it cannot have it at all. Rather, the truth is that those who are already virtuous  can have patience when they feel they should. And those who think they have little patience and try to have it by inculcating determinations repeatedly, hoping that they may acquire this extraordinary skill, repeatedly fail to do so, and either get disappointed or rationalize their frailty by saying that the bold need not have it. The result is predictable - self-denying impatience. So until and unless one clearly knows what patience is, one cannot have it.

There are many people who think that they have patience or who want others to think so. Maybe that is one kind of pretence or non-assertive weak-heartedness. Merely tolerating something or keeping silent does not mean patience in any way. The truth is that patience is not a virtue that can be acquired; rather, it is a state of the mind that can be and has to be discovered. It is a state of mind that helps feel and meaningfully react to the external reality without the person having to alter the choices that they have already made.

If that is so, then patience does not mean something that can be called a special virtue. It is there in everybody. Literally everybody.

And it is not a virtue that needs to be acquired. It is part of life, part of living.

Let us move slowly. What is patience? Does it mean holding oneself back even when the mind has decided to express an emotion, such as anger, sorrows etc., and thus remaining peaceful? Partly yes, and partly no. Yes because patience is a field of energy that can hold the streams of energy within its boundary for a specific time of emotional upsurge. And no because such a holding back is actually impossible in the long term, patience being no emotion itself. If patience were an emotion, it could be expected somehow or other to nullify the effect of one or more other emotions acting in the opposite direction. But it is not an emotion. It is ... what is it, really?

Nor is it the state of the absence of emotion. If it were, then it could not contain and host other emotions. What is it, then?

Metaphorically, if emotions are waves, then patience is ... not the shore nor the sea-bed nor the water nor the current, but the entire sea!

Patience is not the absence of emotions or a state of the mind resulting from the training of emotions. It is the totality of emotions. Surprising as it may sound, it is the fact. So let us move steadily, without losing patience.

What does it mean to have patience? Does it mean to postpone a decision until a latter point in time? Not necessarily. I want to torture somebody. I change my decision and decide to torture them after one month. Is it patience? Not necessarily. Patience is not doing or not-doing something. The deference of a decision to resist an undesirable stimulus is not necessarily patience.

Let us take specific examples and judge the issue in light of them.

Suppose that somebody hurts me physically. I get hurt and feel like paying the person in their own coin. However, I feel that I will not be able to go unhurt if I hurt him too, as I am weak. So I decide not to avenge myself of the hurt. Is that patience? Certainly not. Patience means refraining from expressing reactions even when one thinks that one is well in a position to do so.

Or suppose I am in utter poverty. A very pious person says, "Have patience. Maybe God will change your situation very soon." By way of acting up to his advice, I decide to have patience. Now the question is - What do I do when I have patience? Wait? Waiting is half-patience. However, I think we can anatomize waiting now.

When one waits, one only expects to achieve a purpose in the future. So, while the probable achievement is in the future, the desire is present in the mind. This is waiting. So waiting implies remaining active in the mind toward the fulfillment of an objective. However, waiting means expectation if the thing desired cannot be achieved now for some reason or other. If, on the other hand, the desired thing can be achieved at present but still the achievement is deferred to a future point in time, then that waiting involves patience, though, in my opinion, it is still not patience in the purest sense of the concept.

Often we relate patience to anger or excitement. That is why we hear people saying, "Don't be angry. Have patience." In this case patience refers to refraining from being activated by anger. In other words,  patience means refraining from reacting even when the emotional movement temporarily demands that very reaction. But, truly speaking, external reaction cannot be managed unless the internal reaction is managed. Again, internal reaction cannot be managed if it is not understood in its totality or if it is not dissolved by love arising from the heart naturally.

However, often there is seen to be little difference between love felt naturally and instinct.

So it is worthwhile to keep in mind that acquiring proper knowledge about emotions, their causes and consequences helps the mind automatically get liberated from the trap of automated reflexes or habits.

Talked of in connection with anger, patience involves unconditional forgiveness. If I think, "I'll react only when his behavior exceeds a limit but until then I'll have patience", then that non-involvement can hardly be called patience, because it is a planned overlooking, which is only a strategic move toward the achievement of a goal. Patience, if it were equated with waiting, would mean accumulating or storing the intention to do something in the future. But accepting this concept creates a contradiction. So patience is not conditional forgiveness. After all, forgiveness can hardly be conditional.

So we see that as long as patience is considered in relation to anger, it involves forgiveness, which is attributable either to knowledge or to love.

Likewise, patience has a direct relevance to sorrows or sufferings, as we have alluded to in an example. I am suffering a lot for my neighbor's activity or conduct. But I am told to have patience and I do have patience. In that case I have to forgo some convenience. This is sacrifice. But truly speaking, such sacrifice may sometimes get transformed into a feeling of superiority or nobleness and thus become a business transaction. This is patience in the selfish sense of the term, not in the pure sense. Then what is patience proper?

At this point we can enjoy the old story of the thirsty crow which flew around in search of water and, after a long time, found a pitcher in which there was a little water at the bottom. It was very intelligent and so dropped some pebbles into the pitcher, which he collected with effort. However, when the water level rose in the pitcher he found the water muddy and instead of drinking it, flew away, disappointed.

However the second part of the story begins here… And another crow that was also thirsty observed this from a nearby place and came to the pitcher as the first crow departed. He waited until the water became clear and then drank to his fill from the pitcher. His patience made his intelligence meaningful and effective.

Patience means waiting until the situation changes in such a way that there is eventually no need to have patience. More appropriately, patience means waiting in such a way that the very act of waiting changes the situation.

One who is not angry does not need to have patience for anything, nor can he do so at all. But if one who is angry wants to have patience, then he must wait until the person or situation he is angry with changes completely, so much so that he does not have to have patience any more.

Thus patience, rather than being a hibernating emotion waiting to be expressed in the future, must be a self-fulfilling state of mind. In fact, patience is prayer and benediction. It is love waiting to be transformed into knowledge. It is energy that will change the definition, not the word. It is the desire not to change oneself so that the other party or the situation changes. Patience is the best performance of personal duty and social responsibility. It is intelligence pregnant with creativity, light that does not move.

One who claims to have patience must be convinced that it is his patience that will change the world that interacts with him and until such a change has been brought about, he should not think that he has ever had patience.


Continued ...


Author of:

Secret Knowledge of the Qur'an