How patience helps cultivate contentedness

A Child Sees Everything; looks straight at it. By Bhagath Makka, Tamil Nadu

Photography: Bhagath Makka, Tamil Nadu

Contentedness is inhibited through our own will . . .

A frequent obstacle to contentedness comes up in our refusal to accept current circumstances. There’s a wilful attempt to negate ‘what is’ with a movement towards ‘what should be’. We reject the world as it is and instead seek to bend it to our will. This refusal is the antithesis of the contented state itself, so necessarily produces discontent within. It’s not merely a hindrance to contentedness that’s thrust upon us by force of circumstance; the refusal’s a perverse act of denial – something we do.

. . . our impatience masks its appearance

This begs the question as to why we might ever choose to deny ourselves contentedness in this way. We can answer the question from different perspectives; though almost always there’s a component of impatience. We deny ourselves contentedness in thinking we can change reality for the better. And as there’s no time to waste, we don’t stop to think if our methods will prove effective. We indulge the compulsion to act, even though what ultimately we seek has passivity at its core.

Denying the inevitability of change . . .

Now of course, much of life is about effecting change, and this means acting in order to do so. And yet this kind of action need not come from any sense of denial as to ‘what is’. Life and existence are synonymous with change, and as we are life itself, then change is central to what we are as living beings. So ‘what is’ changes too, whether we like it or not. It doesn’t require our impatience to deny its current form. We can opt to display patience as we observe our involvement in that change.

. . . we seek to jump life’s queues selfishly

That’s a bit philosophical, so let’s look at an example. When I was young, I was often impatient at the wheel of my car. I’d drive into London each day weaving between the traffic on the Western Avenue. Many other drivers did this too, impelled by their own impatience. As a result, I’d park in the West End to start my working day partially drained. So I stopped the traffic dodging and yet found I arrived each morning at the same time. My hour of tension was so unnecessary.

We waste energy wanting to be elsewhere . . .

I used to resent queuing in person too. I often found myself assessing when I’d get to the front, all the while in a slightly agitated and unpleasant mood. Lots of energy went into all this negativity, yet it never produced anything. The problem even compounded itself because of course, I tried to conceal my agitation and that takes energy too – think Basil Fawlty. How stupid my behaviour was, and how unnecessary too. Denying the need to queue was always pointless.

. . . harming ourselves and others as we do so

For many people, it’s a lot worse. They kill or cause injury by their driving. They have strokes or heart attacks in middle age. They become ulcerous or suffer nervous breakdowns. They destroy their relationships or alienate all those around them. They’re forced to survive on anti-depressants, booze or dope. So much of this can be said to occur as a result of a refusal to display patience. It occurs in a denial of ‘what is’ and the correlative rejection of contentedness. It’s a form of insanity.

Acceptance is contentedness in action . . .

Contentedness is another word for acceptance; it’s the term we use to describe how we feel when we completely accept things as they are. And at the heart of the contented state is a certain passivity of the mind which results from our accepting attitude. The passive mind still functions perfectly well, and there’s no correlation with submissiveness or an inability to act. Yet there’s no denial present, no heated impatience. So, patience is key to our contentedness, and also to living healthily.

. . . we do as we must, yet free of impatient striving

Natural patience is effortless. We can’t force or feign its manifestation, remarking to ourselves how patient we’re being as we tap our toes on the floor. Patience isn’t about a physical passivity; it’s a mentally passive state. It has an uncontrived coolness which sees the utter redundancy of denying ‘what is’, whilst remaining able to act as necessary. We can still do things quickly, and even with a sense of urgency, and yet remain mentally passive and patient as we do so. Patience isn’t limiting at all.

Allowing opposites to exist, patience is born

The best way to develop natural patience is by observing and curtailing any heated impatience. It’s that obvious – a simple matter of allowing the opposite to exist. As we cease to bend the world to our will impatiently, then again too, the opposite comes into existence – which is acceptance. And acceptance is contentedness of course. This process of negation allows opposites to exist. It doesn’t require the involvement of an impatient self; our natural, uncontrived patience in being will suffice.

19 thoughts on “How patience helps cultivate contentedness

  1. ‘Acceptance is the answer’ is a well known and much loved aphorism from one of the stories in AA’s Big Book. It’s so good to see it here. Addiction, anxiety, stroke. And all resolvable with patience and contentedness! My loud SELF says ‘easier said than done’. 🙂

    • Quite right. It’s very easy to come across as platitudinous and simplistic in attempting to write in short form – though I enjoy the challenge, and with feedback such as yours I hope to hone my meagre skills in time. Your central objection (feel free), appears to be over my stating that ‘So much of this (suffering), can be said to occur as a result of a refusal to display patience’. Whilst the words are simple, I think their essential meaning is difficult to refute. The conditioning needed to transition towards a patient attitude is indeed ‘easier said than done’; and as you can tell from the article, I speak from my own experience as a formerly impatient twit. Now, along with that twit-ness, I was always a bit slow on the uptake too, and would say it took me a good few years of intense personal enquiry and self-reflection before the tendency to impatience was reconditioned. I’m very thankful that this occurred though, as it was a hugely significant development. With gratitude and respect. HB (a.k.a. Basil).

      • I didn’t mean to challenge or object, merely to share that this is by no means an easy path. And perhaps to admit to my impatience with my lack of patience in my slow pace at learning to be patient 🙂 Thank you again.

        • Tee-hee! Agreed; the business of overcoming impatience is to some extent circular and regressive. The negation I wrote of through allowing opposites to exist is simple in principle yet takes great presence of mind to effect. It can feel like a conflict between (wise) thought and (impulsive) feeling, and as you so rightly say, is not an easy path. As an aside, I entirely appreciate that your original comment was offered in a spirit of friendliness and helpfulness. Do feel free to ‘challenge or object’ though Liz, as doubtless I have much to learn from someone such as yourself. With metta, Hariod.

  2. And by the way, I also want to say how much I am enjoying the stunning photos at the head of every article and also the beautiful abstract artworks by Clarissa Galliano that pepper your posts. Just wow! And thank you for the feast for the eyes that accompanies your wise words. Namaste.

    • That’s very kind and gracious of you Liz. I take my time in searching out what I feel are good and appropriate photographic images, and am pleased you appreciate them. As to paintings, it probably appears as though I have some particular interest in promoting Clarissa’s work, though in fact I don’t. She is a friend of a friend who I once met many years ago when attending a private viewing at a gallery her husband once ran. When I was scratching around for an image for the cover of a book of mine, I thought of Clarissa’s paintings and she was kind enough to allow me to reproduce one that I felt worked well. Subsequently, she’s agreed to me using images of her work here on this site and for which, I’m extremely grateful. I would like to expand the library of abstract painting images in time, and to include those of other exceptional artists (hint, hint). With metta, Hariod.

        • That’s wonderful Liz, and in due course we’ll do this together. As to acknowledgments, you can see what I do with Clarissa’s work in the posts. Also, if you click on an image detail from the ‘Welcome home’ page, a full-screen carousel opens where the titles of paintings are listed and viewers can comment. This site has only a few weeks existence as of yet so visitor numbers will increase in time if I keep the content decent. Images of your work will certainly assist greatly in this and I’m sure that as with Clarissa, you’ll get visitors to your site as a result. I am very grateful to you Liz, truly. Hariod.

  3. Hi Hariod, great post again! One question: are you a Buddhist? Zen practitioner? Not to label, but the essence of your work sits really well with this philosophy.

    • I greatly appreciate your kind words and for giving a little of your time to consider this article. This site has only been in existence for a few weeks and it’s very gratifying to know that the odd connection is being made around the world. Thank you so much; you are encouraging me to continue in my writing by your kindness.

      On the page ‘Who runs this site?’, I describe myself as being ‘free-floating Buddhistic’. I underwent an orthodox Buddhist training (not ordained), for twenty or so years, though that was a while ago. I feel an affinity with a variety of Eastern philosophies/ontologies, and am also interested in modern theories of mind.

      With gratitude and respect to you asmukti (good name), Hariod.

      • Hi Hariod, thanks for writing back. I just found additional information pages on your blog and you’re right, all the information was there! Thank you. Just to say though that I only found them because you mentioned one of them in your comment. I completely missed the tab the first time. Until soon. 🙂

    • I truly appreciate you taking the time to add some positivity and support to my little project Aina. I wonder, do you have any online projects underway yourself that you could tell us about? – would love to hear if that is so.

      With much gratitude and respect dear Aina, Hariod.

  4. Hariod, thank you for this post, so wise and so beautifully written.

    There was a time, I know, when I would have found this to be far too passive. I tended to be an activist fraught with impatience, especially during the times of political upheaval in our land, and this attitude permeated so much of my life. The essence of what I found and have never forgotten is what you say: “So ‘what is’ changes too, whether we like it or not.” That’s not an easy lesson to learn, but it is one of the most freeing. Having said that, I must say that the old activist every now and again makes his presence felt and I have to speak calmly and quietly to him, and then he quietly goes out onto the verandah, looks out across the sea and settles down again.

    Thank you for a wonderful post. I so enjoy your blog.

    • Dear Don,

      Thank you so much for gracing my tiny corner of the blogosphere with your presence; I greatly appreciate it, truly I do. And thank you also for your kind and generous words, they support me greatly as I stumble my way along in a bid to improve the clarity of my written efforts. I am always a little surprised, and humbled too, whenever anyone shows an interest here, particularly so when they are an artist and thinker of the calibre such as yourself.

      I do hope that you don’t altogether pacify the activist within you Don; it seems to me that the world is in need of those who are prepared to make a stand in whatever ways are appropriate to them. You, I know, have a well-read site with a loyal following which includes myself in its number; so when you issue the call to revolt Don, you can certainly count me in my friend!

      With much gratitude and great respect.


  5. Superbly written, and I absolutely concur. Also, this made me laugh a huge amount: “from my own experience as a formerly impatient twit” So, thank you for the smiles as well as the reminder to allow my natural patience to simply be. I see myself dipping in and out of here regularly. *smiles some more*

    – Sonmi upon the Cloud

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