When I was a little girl, my biggest wish was to go to Disneyland. Television commercials showed a wonderland of joy with cheerful characters at every corner. Even potentially scary rides were designed to delight. Visitors to Disneyland could expect their visit to be merry and memorable. In my mind it was the best destination in the world.
But Disneyland was out of my reach, thousands of miles away. I knew I’d need to wait until I grew up before I could visit it.
The Road to Enlightenment
Along life’s journey we’re faced with many possible destinations. Our youthful goals, like visiting Disneyland, are transformed. Adult goals aim towards education, career, and family. Spiritually, as yogis explain, we’re born to realize our Divine, inner nature. Self-realization is the highest goal of human life.
Who wouldn’t want to achieve that state of perfection? The promise of lasting peace and happiness is alluring. In that state, we don’t experience fear, anger, or jealousy. Our mind is calm, and we see Divinity’s reflection wherever we look. It’s a condition of complete contentment.
With that goal in mind, we begin our spiritual journey enthusiastically. We meditate daily and find a suitable path and teacher. Our attention is drawn to the goal—like a new delicacy at the corner bakery. We reach for that delicacy again and again through our practices. It feels good. Daily meditation erases our anxieties, and we feel in control of our lives. The years pass in relative ease. Often, however, enlightenment still seems far away, like a child’s dream destination of Disneyland. We might begin to have doubts and suspect that we’re not up to the task.
This is when we need to buck up and call upon one of yoga’s prized virtues—patience.
The Essential Quality of Patience
Being patient on the spiritual path is somewhat like a child’s normal and systematic growth. As a little girl, I had faith that Disneyland existed. I would reach it someday. Most of my youthful energy was spent on growing up. I went to school, obeyed my parents (mostly), ate my Wheaties, and played with my friends. Eventually, I completed my journey to adulthood. And, yes, I made it to Disneyland.
As you can imagine, many people don’t complete their spiritual journey as easily. The path is fraught with obstacles and diversions. Patience and persistence are essential qualities needed for spiritual growth. But in today’s world we’re accustomed to instant gratification. We don’t need to shop—Amazon delivers. Curiosity doesn’t require tedious research—Google provides answers with millions of hits. Everything on Earth seems quickly and easily obtained. Why should we wait for anything?
We’ve lost our need for patience, and so we’re out of practice. Self-realization is a long road for most of us. To avoid frustration or doubt we must increase our faculty for patience. Without it, we stumble, or even fall, from the spiritual path.
How to Grow the Quality of Patience
Being patient about our progress on the spiritual path has always been an issue for seekers. Sarada Devi encouraged her devotees:
“The moon in the sky is covered by a cloud. The cloud has to be removed by the wind gradually; then only can one see the moon. Does it pass all of a sudden? Similarly with spiritual perfection. The effects of past deeds are exhausted slowly.”
We can’t know how long our journey will last. Its culmination might be just around the next corner. Or we might have many karmic clouds to clear. For this reason, patience is a virtue worth cultivating.
Here’s a short list of activities that will help you increase your patience.
- Increase your awareness of this vital quality. Resist impatience when it appears. If you notice thoughts like, “When will I have (anything)?” replace that thought immediately with “Soon, soon enough.”
- Practice patience in little things. Do you ever find yourself feeling impatient with the people in your household? Do they speak too slowly to get to the point? Does it take them too long to do the dishes? If someone in your circle procrastinates habitually, do you get frustrated? Consciously practice patience in times like this. In doing so, you’ll increase your ability to be patient in more important situations.
- Keep company with saints. It’s crucial for you to remember that others have achieved the highest goal of human birth. Even Buddha did intense spiritual practices for many years before attaining nirvana. Read the biographies of Self-realized saints. Identify with their struggles and especially their victories.
- Practice patience in your meditation. Most meditators, especially beginners, experience restlessness at some time while meditating. It’s important at that time to remain in your seated posture for the allotted time. Witness that restlessness as a normal part of your progress. Patience is often rewarded with a deep and satisfying experience. Surprisingly, this might happen within the same meditation session.
The Attainable Goal
Always remember that Self-realization is possible for you. The virtue of patience will sustain you along the path. There will be bumps in the road. You may stumble. But by patiently returning to your practices, and with a positive outlook, you will achieve the highest goal of human life.
How do you practice patience? Do you have any suggestions to others who follow the spiritual path? Please provide them in the comment section below.
Chityānanda has been a disciple of Svāmī Gurupremānanda Sarasvatī since 1975. She teaches meditation and yoga as a spiritual path in Santa Cruz, California.