Patience is a virtue that can be hard to recover when you're trapped in rush-hour traffic or stuck in a long line at the bank.
In Patience: The Art of Peaceful Living, Allan Lokos explains how to practice, develop and build patience amidst life's emotional ups and downs.
"There's nothing wrong with anger. There's nothing wrong with impatience," he tells NPR's John Donvan. "The problem is do we act when we're experiencing impatience? Do we act when we're experiencing anger? That's where the problems can arise."
Lokos, founder and guiding teacher at The Community Meditation Center in New York, talks with Donvan about how to practice the art of patience in various aspects of life.
On the risks of acting while angry
"It's acting when we are angry that can really lead us into a lot of trouble. The key is to be in touch with what we are experiencing as early as possible, let's say as in the examples that you used, if we're stuck in traffic or our boss is acting in a way that's idiotic, we will experience the arising of impatience or anger.
"But if we can exercise patience just for a moment or two, we're much, much less likely to say or to do something that we're going to regret."
On the virtue of patience as a constantly morphing experience
"So many ... of us have a tendency to categorize ourself this way and say, 'I'm an impatient person.' A statement like that is always going to be inaccurate because as science has now proven, we are constantly changing. ... If we say, to this point, 'I've experienced a lot of impatience,' that could be accurate."
On being patient with family members
"My research that I did before writing this book certainly shows that families are tricky areas for most of us. We speak about our buttons being pushed. It's our families who installed those buttons. So ... they can be problematic areas.
"Our children are great teachers because they're going to bring out our impatience."
On growing older and being patient
"The body is changing ... and sometimes we can become very angry at our own body, impatient with ourselves. And I think it's very important to realize that is the nature of the body: Everything is changing. The body is changing. So why not go with that so that we don't go to the finish line just resisting and unhappy, but going with what is natural order instead?"
On ways to spread the peace of patience
"It's amazing what just a kind word or a smile does, you know? We just need to realize what it does for us if someone just looks back and holds the door for us for a moment or just says, 'Hi, how are you doing?' That ... can change our outlook for the entire day. It's so great to offer that and to receive that."
JOHN DONVAN, HOST:
Is this you? You're waiting for a traffic light to change, and your heart races at the thought of all the time you're wasting going nowhere. Going through security at the airport, you want to scream at the first-time flier who's just in front of you, who still has his shoes on, because you know he's about to bring the whole system to a halt. At work, your boss is so much less competent than you are that at night, you dream of various unsavory forms of overthrow.
Well, what you need in these scenarios, and several others that present themselves in modern life, is a dose of patience - which, says Allan Lokos, who thought about this a lot and has just published a book called "Patience," is something that you can actually practice and develop and build.
The benefit of this? Well, a lot less impatience in your life, which Lokos says translates into a lot less anger. And how much of that is there going around these days?
We want to hear from you on this. If you do practice patience in your life, we would like to know how you got there. What incident turned you around? Or what lesson did you learn that maybe the rest of us can learn something from? Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is email@example.com, and you can join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
So if you practice patience, how did you get there? What was the turning point for you? Allan Lokos joins me now from our bureau in New York. Thanks for coming on, Allan.
ALLAN LOKOS: Thank you. I'm delighted to be here.
DONVAN: So what - I just mentioned that anger is close to impatience, and the scenarios that I was just outlining - being in traffic, or being in that security line at the airport, or having a boss that drives you crazy and leaves you tied up in balls of anger - you know, maybe it doesn't feel good, but what's wrong with anger? It's actually an honest emotion, is it not?
LOKOS: Oh, definitely, it is. And there's nothing wrong with anger. There's nothing wrong with impatience. The problem is, do we act when we're experiencing impatience? Do we act when we're experiencing anger? That's where the problems can arise. But the feelings of impatience and anger are perfectly normal, just as you said.
DONVAN: Well, you do write in the book that you call anger almost a form of insanity, which doesn't sound like it's necessarily all right.
LOKOS: Well, it's acting when we are angry that can really lead us into a lot of trouble. The key is to be in touch with what we are experiencing as early as possible; let's say, as in the examples that you used. If we're stuck in traffic or our boss is acting in a way that's idiotic, we will experience the arising of impatience or anger. But if we can exercise patience just for a moment or two, we're much, much less likely to say or to do something that we're going to regret. That would be the part that's really insane.
DONVAN: So what is that experience of exercising patience? What does it feel like?
LOKOS: I think it's personal within each of us. We can learn what that's like by stopping and taking a moment to just become more aware of what is going on within us; specifically, the thoughts, feelings and physical sensations that arise. And they're constantly arising, one after another. They arise, and they die away. When we cling to them, that's when trouble can begin.
You know, your example about the boss who's not as competent as I am - if I begin to write my stories about, I'm always in this situation; I'm always playing second fiddle to someone who doesn't know what they're doing, that's why I never get anyplace, that's why I'm not in a good relationship, that's why nobody likes me; all that's happening is that I had the experience of dissatisfaction with an aspect of my boss. All the rest of that, I've made up, and that's where problems can arise.
DONVAN: Wow. So you're saying that we don't have to have the second and third and fourth layers of those reactions?
LOKOS: We don't have to have them, and we don't really want them. It's the bare experience - the experience of what I just simply call the arising of impatience, or the arising of anger. They're feelings and, exactly as you said, they're absolutely normal. There's nothing wrong with the feelings themselves, except for the fact that impatience and anger don't usually feel very good. You know, happiness, love, compassion simply feel better. They have a more pleasant tone about them.
DONVAN: Can there not be an argument made that anger gets things done - anger as a driver?
LOKOS: If anger becomes the motivation to act in a way that is both wise and compassionate, then yes. But the danger is, because anger can be very powerful, that we will go right past wisdom and compassion and act just simply on anger - which can mean revenge, getting even, that sort of thing. And that's not really going to be wise.
DONVAN: We've asked listeners to call in with their stories of, I guess, learning patience and where it comes from. What was that turning point? What was the moment - if it was, indeed, a moment and not a long process? Let's bring in Amy(ph) from Dearborn, Michigan. Hi, Amy. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.
AMY: Hi there.
AMY: I was at a funeral a couple of weeks ago - and I'm generally a very impatient person, and it translates the most when I'm with my children, and the impatience I feel at - sometimes when they're not doing what I'm asking them to do. So I went to a funeral a couple of weeks ago, and somebody who spoke read a poem called "The Dash." And "The Dash" is about the – there's a date from when you're born, and the date when you die. And the dash in between is how we live our lives. And that, to me, is such a powerful thing. I'm getting choked up.
DONVAN: It's so interesting. So it was something you heard. It was...
AMY: It was.
DONVAN: ...a lesson imparted really, really stuck with you.
AMY: And I don't want my dash to be all about impatience and anger with my kids.
DONVAN: Can I ask why that's hitting you so hard, Amy?
AMY: Because I'm still struggling with it.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
AMY: It's difficult for me. I kind of blame it on, you know, astrology a little bit because my signs and things like that - which is another conversation. But I feel that I'm a very imperfect person, and it comes out the most in a stressful situation with my kids.
DONVAN: Yeah. Allan, what do you hear in this?
LOKOS: Well, Amy and so many of the rest of us have a tendency to categorize our self this way and say, I'm an impatient person. A statement like that is always going to be inaccurate because as science has now proven, we are constantly changing. So you know, Amy, if we say, to this point, I've experienced a lot of impatience, that could be accurate. But this - it just sounds like you've come to a moment of awakening, of realization and wanting to do something about that. And that can change everything. And our children are great teachers because they're going to bring out our impatience. You know, the job of parenting is a difficult job.
DONVAN: I have an email, actually, from a listener named Patience, who writes two sentences to us, Allan. She writes: Small children teach patience. They are never hurried.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
DONVAN: I don't know if they're never hurried but...
LOKOS: Well, I've seen a pillow that was embroidered with the words, impatience - oh, no. I'm sorry. It says: Insanity is inherited; we get it from our children.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
DONVAN: Amy, thanks very much for your call.
AMY: Thank you. Have a great day.
DONVAN: Thank you. We're going to bring in Amy in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Hi - I'm sorry, Tara(ph) in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Hi, Tara. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.
TARA: Hi there.
TARA: I just thought of a particular lesson in which I learned the value of patience. And that was in middle school, when I was being bullied by a particular girl, when I was engaging with her and retaliating against her. And I realized that in doing that, I was just continuing to give her the power that she wanted in the first place.
And so that's where I really learned my lesson of patience; that if you give in, that you're really letting someone else control your emotions. And I'm a control freak, yes, but I don't want someone else to control my emotions in that way.
DONVAN: So interesting that you're a control freak but don't want that kind of control. And so you've found patience as the solution. I think, Allan, that's almost exactly what you were talking about before.
LOKOS: I think it is, and I think this realization that Tara had is a way of saying that she realizes that she is the only who can give up her inner peace. No one else can take that from her.
DONVAN: All right, Tara. Thanks very much for your call. And we're going to go now to Chris(ph) in Naugatuck, Connecticut. Hi, Chris. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.
DONVAN: Hi. You're on.
CHRIS: Hi. How are you?
DONVAN: Good. Thank you.
CHRIS: Thanks for taking my call.
CHRIS: I moved to Seattle out of college, and I went to school at UConn in Connecticut, and I moved out to Seattle after graduation. And the first time that I actually had like, a real interaction from somebody who lived in Seattle was at the supermarket. When I checked out, the cashier said, thank you; have a nice day. And I was - it took me aback because I wasn't used to people being nice and taking their time to say something pleasant.
DONVAN: Interesting. So it sounds as though, Allan, maybe what Chris is saying is that we can pay it forward a little bit?
LOKOS: Absolutely. It's amazing what just the kind word or a smile does, you know? We just need to realize what it does for us if someone just looks back and holds the door for us for a moment; or just says hi, how are you doing? That just can change our outlook for the entire day. It's so great to offer that, and to receive that.
DONVAN: Thank you, Chris.
CHRIS: Well, absolutely. I mean, there was - there are other points. I lived there for about seven years and there was, I guess, a study that was done that someone told me about; that if you're in a line of traffic in New York, it takes exactly zero seconds for the light - when the light turns green that people are going to start beeping. In Seattle, it takes 10 seconds, and in rural Oregon, it takes - there's - they don't beep.
DONVAN: Thanks very much for your call, Chris. I want to go to Alan(ph) in St. Petersburg, Florida. Hi, Alan. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.
ALAN: Hi. How are you doing? Thanks for taking my call.
DONVAN: It's a pleasure. Alan, you're on with Allan.
ALAN: Hey, how's it going? Thanks for taking my call.
DONVAN: Right. Sure.
ALAN: So I'm in - I'm almost 30 now, and I developed this anger - I don't know, just impatience and anger probably in my mid-20s, that I've never had before. And I found myself doing things that I would never do before, or saying things that were totally irrational, and things that I would regret later. And the way I'm coping with it now - which, I don't like it at all because it's totally not me - is I think about how my father and how my brother would react, and how they would handle the situation because they're very - patient people. And when I stop and I think clearly on what they would do in the situation, you know, I act out, you know, better responses to the situation.
DONVAN: You mean, by learning from them as a negative lesson and, I'm not going to do what they did?
ALAN: Right, exactly. You know, how would they act in the situation?
DONVAN: Well, let me ask Lokos this question about family. Is family sort of a built-in, you know, since we know members of our family, generally speaking, very, very well and patterns are very, very deeply laid down, are families a difficult area, particularly, where patience comes in, or is it a safe place?
LOKOS: Well, my research that I did before writing this book certainly shows that families are tricky areas for most of us. You know, we speak about our buttons being pushed. Well, it's our families who installed those buttons. So yes, they can be problematic areas.
DONVAN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'd like to share an email with you, Allan Lokos, from a viewer who does not actually give his or her name but writes this: In 1997, at 35, I was diagnosed with a tumor, which was benign. After surgery and physical therapy, I realized that life is too important to be rushed.
What about these big, life-changing moments - do they play a role often?
LOKOS: (Technical difficulty) our eyes to what's important. The loss of a loved one, the diagnosis of a serious illness or, in the case of the person who wrote the email, fortunately, a diagnosis that was not serious - but these can open our eyes. They can be those big moments where suddenly we say hey, what am I doing? I'm just wasting a life that's precious. Let me re-examine. I think those things are very big moments.
DONVAN: An emailer named Dale(ph) writes: I have recently begun practicing patience after I just went through a rehab program. I do simple things like choosing the longest line at the supermarket, or staying behind a driver doing the speed limit on the highway. The turning point was accepting the fact that I have absolutely no control over the actions of others, only my responses to them.
Taking myself out of an angry situation, even if only mentally for a moment, and putting myself in the other person's shoes gives me a much better perspective. Patience is like a muscle, though. It gets stronger through practice but at least right now, mine is not the strongest. Thanks, Dale.
Allan, your response to Dale.
LOKOS: Well, Dale is showing considerable wisdom. I love his exercises of getting behind the slower driver, etc. Patience is not usually the word that comes to mind first when something is provoking our impatience and causing it to arise. So this type of exercise can be great. In the book that I wrote, called "Patience," I lay out a whole list of exercises that are very, very easy to do, that you don't need patience to do, but you practice them using the word patience. Usually that's all we need - is to just have something in the mind say, oh, patience. And that's it.
DONVAN: Mary Beth(ph), Cedar Rapids, Iowa, you're on TALK OF THE NATION.
MARY BETH: Hi.
MARY BETH: I was a having a very busy day with lots of errands - a few years ago - and went into a post office, where I was the only customer. And the attendant was taking his time rhythmically stamping a very tall pile of envelopes. And he didn't even look at me. I stood there for about five minutes. And finally, I just laid into him - at which point, he looked at me and he said, ma'am, that is the prettiest blouse.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARY BETH: He completely disarmed me. And I thought, what a great tool to have in your toolbox; when somebody is impatient, to be able to use something like that, that completely changes the subject and gets them to see how unimportant this little delay is, in the bigger scheme of things.
DONVAN: So Mary Beth, how did - how do you bring that into you life so that it's not always the other guy who has to say the nice thing?
MARY BETH: Well, I try very hard to remember that fellow and try to exemplify that. But I always fall short; I mean, I think we all do. It helps, though, to use humor, and I think humor is a very powerful tool.
DONVAN: Thanks very much for your call, Mary Beth. And Allan Lokos, I want to ask you one more thing. The issue of aging relates to patience - you talk about in the book. And we only have about 40 seconds or so left, but what do you mean by being patient about being older?
LOKOS: Well, the body is changing. And we look in the mirror and we realize one day, oh, the muscle tone is not what it was. And sometimes, we can become very angry at our own body, impatient with ourselves. And I think it's very important to realize, that is the nature of the body. Everything is changing; the body is changing. So why not go with that so that we don't go to the finish line just resisting and unhappy, but going with what is natural order instead?
DONVAN: Allan Lokos, I want to thank you so much for taking this time with us, and for letting us all learn a little bit about patience in 20 minutes.
LOKOS: Thank you, John.
DONVAN: Allan Lokos is a Buddhist teacher and author of "Patience: The Art of Peaceful Living." He joined us from our bureau in New York.
DONVAN: Tomorrow, it's TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY, for a conversation with Climategate scientist Michael Mann on life in the crosshairs of the climate wars.
DONVAN: And I will be back here on Monday. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm John Donvan in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.