I’ve come to terms with the fact that to strengthen my spiritual and mental health, I have to practice patience.
People’s strengths and weaknesses vary. We are all unique, so it makes sense that while I’ve watched some people struggle with patience, others practice it with ease. As I try to learn how to be more patient, I turn to the people around me for insight and guidance. Sometimes I learn from the mistakes they tell me about, or from the way that I see them struggle. Other times I am inspired by the way they move through the world without impatience or force.
But while these examples are helpful, when it comes to practicing patience with myself, I find it most useful to read spiritual guidance. I have sought this spiritual guidance in divine scriptures, like this potent Baha’i passage:
Were it not for calamity, how would the sun of Thy patience shine, O Light of the worlds? Lament not because of the wicked. Thou wert created to bear and endure, O Patience of the worlds. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers
Healing Is Not Linear
A common saying in mental health spaces states that “healing is not linear”. One of the most obvious forms of emotional healing is the way we process a catastrophic event, such as the loss of a loved one. In my social work graduate program, we learned about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But while we might like to imagine that when something grievous occurs, people move through the stages one by one, the fact is that these phases can mesh together. Often, we loop back to stages we already passed through before. Grief can be complex, and it is not a linear process.
Patience Through Spiritual Guidance
The process of grief requires patience. Most will find themselves sorely disappointed if every time they face a challenge they assume that they’ll glide through the process. The Baha’i writings suggest that we have to continually reorient our minds towards a divine source when processing something difficult:
Rely upon God. Trust in Him. Praise Him, and call Him continually to mind. He verily turneth trouble into ease, and sorrow into solace, and toil into utter peace. He verily hath dominion over all things. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha
In my own experience, keeping God in mind is necessary in my process to cultivate a stronger sense of patience. When I am frustrated with myself or other people in my life I try to remember that we were all created by God. When I feel upset or confused about different seemingly desirable opportunities passing me by, I try to remember there is a greater purpose that God understands. When that line of reasoning doesn’t calm my anxiety, I often try to remind myself that no matter what my life circumstances- there are always ways I can find to worship God and grow spiritually.
Remembering to Forgive
Even when I’m not grieving something, I’ve learned that I have to be patient in my efforts to develop new habits. Once I’ve recognized a pattern that gets in the way of my functioning, I want to change, but awareness of the issue does not naturally result in the change I hope for. Even putting in effort to change doesn’t necessarily guarantee that I will be successful, which requires that I be patient and forgiving of myself throughout the process.
In addition to practicing patience by not hurrying, patience also means persisting in putting forth energy. It isn’t a passive virtue, but rather an active one. It’s tied closely to persistence.
The Baha’i writings tell us:
He [God], verily, rewardeth beyond measure them that endure with patience. -Baha’u’llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries
An active approach to patience allows for growth. Wise people in my life have often reminded me that you have to try and try again to succeed. When we do this, the reward we imagine for ourselves probably isn’t even a fraction of the bounty we might receive.