The Third Virtue: Patience

11 10 2008




Naifan   (Patient)

Nai: endure, bear; resist; patient

Fan: bother, vex, trouble; troublesome

 Patience: I serve others according to their needs

Patience is the ability to wait until the time is right and to act out of a need for correct action not influenced by personal desires. When you fail, learn to rise again like the phoenix and do better the next time you practice. Understand that you are human and that making mistakes is a part of life not an indication of your lack of ability. © 2008 Dr. John P. Painter

At the end of every session of Daoqiquan training, the students “bow out” saluting the four cardinal directions and reciting the Four Virtues. The third Virtue is Patience. Many folks will say that patience is something they do not have. “I’m losing my patience!” “I’m running out of patience!” In the 1970’s there was a popular black light poster with two buzzards sitting on a cactus. One of the buzzards says, “Patience my ass! I’m gonna kill something!”

 I believe I began learning patience at the knee of my Grand Shifu, Dr. Painter. This began with meditation. I mean come on, you just sit there. And then you sit there. And then you sit some more. At the beginning of each class we sat on the mats around the walls of the kwoon and we meditated. Or we tried to.

 The body immediately began to interfere. I had to swallow, then I had to cough, then I had an itch to scratch. Then someone else would cough and I would have to cough again. This is meditation?

 But, gradually, over time, the body’s interference subsided and my mind began to calm and I came closer and closer to meditating. Then one day, it all came together and suddenly one of those light bulbs appeared in the air over my head, and I knew that I was meditating. Except, of course, by knowing I was meditating, I was no longer meditating, but it got easier and easier.

 To sit down with anxiety and calm the mind and quell the body and have time cease to exist until sometime later you stop meditating and what seemed like one second was one hour and all the fear and anger and worry has been washed out of your system–that is meditating. There are many higher levels of meditation, but this tale is about patience.

Legend tells us that Bodhidharma, an Indian monk called Da Mo in China, the monk who brought Ch’an Buddhism to China and founded Shaolin Temple, and began the Shaolin martial arts, yeah, that Bodhidharma, anyway legend says he sat in meditation for nine years. Now that is patience. But, sigh, even old Da Mo had his faults.

According to that same legend, he fell asleep in his meditation and when he awoke he was so angry with himself, he ripped off his eyelids and flung them to the ground! That is not patience. The good thing of course, is that from those eyelids grew the first tea plant.

My next step up the patience ladder was when I managed a small computer business. The owner was out all day selling and installing CAD systems while I answered the phone, did paperwork, and built computers from scratch. Or from little bitty pieces, anyway. So, lots of things can go wrong when constructing a computer. And you don’t know that anything is wrong until all the little bits reach a certain level of assembly. Then you hit the power switch and see if anything appears on the screen. Now this was the old days. RAM wasn’t just a SIMM or DIMM or two slapped into a slot, this was the days when each individual chip was inserted onto the motherboard. Lots more things could go wrong, like a bent pin.

So, I very quickly learned that if I hurriedly put the computer together, I would, most likely, have to slowly take it apart again, testing each section as I went, to find out why the darned thing didn’t work. And this led to an increase in patience. Take your time! Go slow, get it right the first time.

The other day at a tea show in Seattle I watched a Korean tea ceremony. It has a lot in common with the Japanese tea ceremony, Chanoyu. This is ritual personified. Every movement is precise and always the same and the movements are slow and there is no hurry. Please the eyes with subtle beauty, please the ears with music, please the nose with aroma, and please the palate with cha–tea. Take your time, there is no time, there is only the sound of the bubbling water and the whisk as it whips the tea powder into a lovely green froth. Patience.

 Now, I am not claiming to possess any great reservoir of patience, but merely saying that I have a lot more than I used to. And saying that there are ways to cultivate patience until, when it appears, you greet it like an old friend.

One of my favorite sayings is “When the time is right for the student to learn, a teacher will appear.” Be patient and that teacher will come.

Sun-Tzu said something to the effect, “He who must take action has lost the battle.” This does not mean action cannot be taken, but choose your time, choose your place and the battle will already be half won. Be patient.

Blaise Pascal said “All the troubles of the world stem from Man’s inability to sit quietly in his room.” Boy was he onto something.

The point here being, take your time, relax, breathe, notice what is around you, learn to un-notice what is around you, slow and steady does win the race. “I serve others according to their needs.”