Patience (The Virtues Part 2)
This post is part TWO of a seven-part series on the virtues. In the introduction to this series on the Virtues, I talk about the concepts of the seven virtues and their correlating sins. I detail their influence on modern pop culture as well as their historical context. If you would like to read it and the rest of the series as it is published, please click HERE. I will be updating the links on this as the series comes out.
Today’s subject is the virtue of Patience.
Patience is a virtue, as they say. In fact, because of this saying I feel like this may be the most ubiquitous and well-known virtues out of the seven. Its meaning is pretty plain to to understand and requires little fishing around for definitions and explanations, but it is always good to investigate the roots of things so here we are!
I think it needs to be said that I personally have been struggling with this virtue recently. Being eight months pregnant as I write this in the middle of summer, I have been struggling with waiting this last stretch to meet my son-something that no doubt every pregnant woman has to face when she reaches the home stretch. I am also by nature not a particularly patient person, and for me writing about this virtue highlights that fact and perhaps makes it more difficult for me to understand and gather my thoughts. Maybe this is all the more reason why I needed to write this post!
All of that being said, let us dive a little deeper into the meaning of this virtue.
When you google the word “Patience” you will receive is as your definition: “The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.”
Today we mostly think of patience as simply being able to endure waiting, but as always, there is a deeper spiritual meaning when we are talking about patience as a virtue. A key element of this very important virtue is being able to endure suffering as well as uncertainty.
Uncertainty and suffering have long been a part of this world and this will never change. However, in recent times we have been slowly acclimated to a false sense of security and confidence in the operations of the everyday-that is, until a little global pandemic rocked the world and our perceptions about our position in it. Never have I seen so many impatient people, all waiting for some kind of answer from someone!
Yes, dealing with inconveniences great and small are a large part of patience, but the virtue itsself is a virtue because of its long-suffering and endurance-based qualities. To be able to bear the weight of great things without losing your cool is so important in this modern world, and arguably we as a society have gotten atrophied at this skill over time, if simply by the fact that things take much less time to do now than they ever have in the history of the known world.
Think of something as simple as doing the laundry: today we have these wonderful machines that do it all for us. All we must do is pop the clothes in, put it on the proper setting, and let the machine do its magic. Not too long ago, everything was washed by hand, and that was a particularly laborious project to take on. Not only was it physically taxing, requiring long bouts of swishing in water, beating out dirt and grime, and exposure to chemicals on the hands and arms, but it was also extremely time consuming, sometimes taking days to get articles completely clean and dry. We are not a very patient society anymore because we have been somewhat spoiled by our technological advances, I believe. We simply aren’t used to having to wait, so we don’t.
In The Power of Now by Elkhart Tolle, he talks about waiting: “ Waiting is a state of mind. Basically, it means that you want the future; you don’t want the present. You don’t want what you’ve got, and you want what you haven’t got. With every kind of waiting, you unconsciously create inner conflict between your here and now, where you don’t want to be, and the projected future, where you want to be. This greatly reduces the quality of your life by making you lose the present.”
This illuminates a lot of why patience is indeed a virtue, and a very important one at that. Patience implies acceptance. It also highlights something that we innately know is a part of this virtue: patience is not only the ability to endure suffering and hardship, but also the ability to do with with a good attitude. It is, essentially, not allowing outside circumstances mess with your inner peace. Acceptance is patience, which is the opposite of wrath.
Wrath, on the other hand, is impatience. Wrath is wanting things to be different and acting forcefully to bend the world to your will (often to no avail). Wrath is non-acceptance, rigidity, inflexibility, and a weakness under pressure. Wrath is too rigid and breaks under the calm influence of peaceful patience like a stone under the erosive softness of water. Wrath is a lack of self control, whereas patience possesses a kind of poise that comes from within.
In the psychomanchia, a poem written by a roman christian that I talked about in the introduction post of this series, the author pits the personification of patience, here called Long-Suffering, against Wrath. When Wrath attacks our virtuous maiden, she is able to deflect the blows by having stellar armor and remaining steadfast where others would waver. With this behavior, mild-mannered Long-Suffering is essentially untouchable, even when wrath throws spears and harsh words at her. Becoming so enraged with not being able to harm her foe, wrath kills herself on the battlefield while lashing out in a fit of rage.
Long-Suffering declares of her victory: “ Fury is its own enemy; fiery wrath in her frenzy slays herself and dies by her own weapons. “
I think the example shown in this old text is particularly interesting, not only because it relies on the premise that acting of wrath is to act out your own demise, but that fortitude and patience need only be and deflect in order to have victory over wrath. When we act out of wrath, we in essence defeat ourselves and make ourselves vulnerable to behaving foolishly, shooting ourselves in our own foot. How many times after cooling down have I looked back on the way I acted with regret and embarrassment? This is the essence of the message laid out for us in the psychomanchia: be wrathful and be thwarted by yourself.
In this example patience is not only the opposite of wrath, but the antidote and the cure to wrath, as well. Because of this quality, Long-Suffering patience is a very important virtue. In the passages of the psychomanchia it reads: “ To all the virtues Long-suffering alone joins in company and bravely adds her help; no virtue enters on the hazard of the struggle without this virtue’s aid, for she has naught to lean upon whose strength Long-Suffering does not uphold.” What does this mean?
This virtue can be thought of as a larger concept that bleeds out to all of the virtues, and that is the idea of moral virtue. What is moral virtue? Don’t let it intimidate you by its high-and-mighty sounding nature, it is simply doing the right thing and doing it well. What does this have to do with patience? Well, pretty much everything.
Thomas Aquinas compared patience to fortitude in his writings in the Suma Theologiae, a text where he essentially has a dialogue with himself and uses his theological knowledge to reach his conclusions. He states: “ It belongs to fortitude to endure, not anything indeed, but that which is most difficult to endure, namely dangers of death: whereas it may pertain to patience to endure any kind of evil.”
So patience, in other terms, can be thought of as endurance. Endurance is a great way to spell out an important element of this virtue: being long-suffering, able to turn the other cheek, and persevering in the face of adversities great and small. It can also be thought of as self control, which has everything to do with moral virtue.
Think of it this way: we know the right thing to do, but do we have the self control, the patience, to do it properly? This is why the other virtues need patience and long-suffering! Having the self control to do good for the right reasons not only necessary, but without this key feature the other virtues would crumble.
Thomas Aquinas also wrote in the Suma Theologiae: “ Patience is said to be the root and safeguard of all the virtues, not as though it caused and preserved them directly, but merely because it removes their obstacles.” Patience, therefore, is rightly one of the most important virtues because the self-control and composure is needed in order to exercise the other virtues. Without patience there would be no charity, no temperance, no diligence. Without patience chastity, kindness, and humility would be a whole lot harder to embody!
All of this said, how can we practice patience in daily life?
Because it is so deep and versatile, I would say that one could practice patience in any aspect of life by flexing our acceptance muscles. We can do this by re-framing waiting as enjoying the present moment, and accepting the things we cannot control. If we can accept things as they are, we can have more endurance towards suffering, inconvenience, and adversity. Where we can practice more endurance, we can summon more inner-peace.
Practicing patience on the small inconveniences of life is a great way to start, and when we start doing that it will bleed outward to the rest of our lives. While I am not the perfect metric for a patient person, I have learned a lot about patience in the last few weeks, months, and years and undoubtedly will continue to do so for the rest of my life. Where there is imperfection, there is beauty and room to grow, right?
Originally published at http://imperfectionfreak.wordpress.com on August 12, 2021.