From Toleration to Patience
We tend to assume that having patience means "having a high tolerance for waiting". Those of us who are patient can wait for long periods of time without becoming anxious or unsettled.
This is only a partial understanding. Patience as tolerance, only takes into account the most superficial form of waiting - the action of waiting.
When we understand waiting as a state-of-mind characterized by preoccupation with the future rather than an action, we see that patience is not a tolerance for waiting, but rather the practice of being able to allow time to pass, while never slipping into a waiting mindset at all.
The goal shifts from being able to endure waiting to being present enough not to experience excessive distraction.
Consider two men at a doctors office. Each have appointments to receive recent test results, and have been in the reception area for just over half an hour. The first is anxious, but shows no sign of his discomfort. He sits still and upright in his chair, breathing deeply. Invisibly, his teeth are clenched and his mind focused inward. His lips are curled upwards in a slight smile. He feels discomfort, but tolerates it well. Onlookers see him to be a patient man. The second man has been moving around and adjusting his posture intermittently while sketching comics on a small notebook. He's stepped out of the waiting room twice to take calls, and occasionally strikes up a friendly conversation with others in the room. He feels no anxiety or discomfort because he's enjoying himself and the time he's spending at the office. Onlookers however, may believe his activity to be a sign of impatience.
So which of these men was truly patient?
The first was tolerating the discomfort created by a fixation on the future test results. This could be considered the first level of patience.
However, the second was present enough to not to fixate on the future results, allowing him to enjoy his time in the waiting room. This next level of patience entailed not needing to tolerate discomfort at all.
In this way, the second man was far more patient.
Impatience is as much an effect of waiting as it is a cause. We experience waiting (fixating on the future) because we’re impatient (frustrated with the present) and are impatient (frustrated with the present) because we wait (fixate on the future). As we live fully in each moment, we lessen our longing for future moments, accepting and appreciating the natural passing of time.