As G. I. Gurdjieff used to say “Patience is the mother of will.” Indeed, it is difficult to imagine that someone who lacks patience could develop willpower. Impatience is rooted in desires and is also caused by the mind’s urge to complete a pending task and relieve inner tension. Tension can be associated with an unsettled situation or an unfulfilled desire, and the mind rushes to resolve it. Therefore, in common life, patience is exhibited out of necessity. We have to endure physical pain and discomfort when we are sick. We have to “grin and bear it” when we need to bring our negative emotions under control. Patience is indispensable when faced with a dangling desire that cannot be fulfilled immediately.
Accordingly, in ordinary life, patience goes hand in hand with unconscious misery. This is the state when we have no choice but to endure the unpleasant experience. If it was within our power to eliminate pain, anger, sadness, or desires, we would do so immediately. However, we are helpless to change anything and resort to either conventional or non-conventional painkillers, bearing it until they begin to work. Our misery is unconscious because we are unaware of its source, fail to see the origin of this or that emotion, and are thus unable to change the situation. So, we put up with it, become irritable, and wallow in self-pity because we do not want to tolerate the frustration. Practicing self-mastery develops a different type of patience. Sports professionals and individuals who make a serious effort to change their quality of being are familiar with it. This type of patience is different, in the sense that a person committed to a certain practice continues with it and endures its associated discomfort through their own will. For example, while practicing observing one’s breath, one faces the situation in which one’s mind, deprived of any meaningful activity, begins to wander first and then race. At first, this creates maximum noise and anxiety. One has a choice either to persist in observing the inhale-exhale process or to give in to the mind and abandon the practice. If they don’t want to capitulate at the very first obstacle, they carry on sitting with and enduring the turmoil their mind created. This is their deliberate choice; this is conscious suffering that can be put to an end at any moment. Yet, they continue with it and soon see that their mind, deprived of the habitual fueling energy of attention, gradually cools. This is the moment when the person assumes control and ceases to be a victim of circumstances.
As the seeker continues to exert effort, his patience grows stronger, and consistent with it grows his freestanding will. With continuous efforts in self-awareness, the seeker develops the willingness to endure discomfort, as working against self-identification alleviates the pressure of desires that was previously overwhelming.
Comment. When not identified with a desire, we feel its energy as vibrant, but now there is a distance between the desire and the one looking at it. Now we have a choice previously unavailable to us: Either to remain conscious of the desire without repressing it, but at the same time making no attempts to fulfill it, or to go ahead and allow it to happen, staying aware all of the way through the process of any internal reactions that we may have. Thus, we will be able to get to the root and see what causes the desire, although it may take more than one attempt before we do. Once we become aware of our desires, we can break free of some of them for good. Being with, and observing the desires while making no attempt to fulfill them works well for those desires that have idealistic grounds and are far from reality. The practice of conscious fulfillment of desires is one of the main practices for coping with desires.
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Impatience, as a side effect of desires, generates anxiety and haste. If a person is open to endure whatever comes his way, he relaxes and becomes calm. Patience that was opted for consciously, brings one a special type of inner peace and serenity. This internal peace is the fruit of acceptance, the willingness to accept whatever happens. Such acceptance makes one very strong and, in inner work, invincible.
It is patience alone that prevents a seeker’s emotional and mental reactions from causing him to revert to an unconscious state. It also gives him a chance to delve into deeper layers of his being. Patience also helps one progress toward the Truth. Finally, in the absence of patience, it would be impossible even to pass through the first part of the Path.