This pandemic is no longer an exciting (but scary) novelty. We’re more than a couple of months into this lockdown, and it’s wearing on many of us.
We experience it as boredom, tiredness, and exhaustion, as an ongoing burden, and can’t wait for it to be over. We lose patience and want to do something—anything.
That all makes sense. It’s also exactly why we have difficulty sticking to habit changes, to long-term deep commitments, to ongoing projects, and long-running challenges.
It’s one thing when things are new, novel, exciting, fresh. It’s a completely different thing when things are boring, dull, tiring, and burdensome.
What would it be like to work with this difficulty inside ourselves, and shift it?
What would it change for us if we didn’t have to grow tired of long-term challenges, or feel them as boring difficult burdens? What if we could develop the joy of patience?
The benefits are many. We could endure long challenges, for months and even years. We could shift habits long term, instead of dropping new habits after a couple of weeks. We’d have more patience for people who usually tire us out or get on our nerves. We’d be less drained by things that bother us over the long term and we’d have a greater capacity to endure.
Those are benefits worth working toward.
The boredom and tiredness we’re feeling now from the lockdown is the perfect practice ground. So how do we do that?
Let’s first look at why these kinds of situations try our patience, and then how to work with them during the current situation.
Why These Things Try Our Patience
If we think about it, there’s nothing in most situations that we face that makes them inherently difficult or annoying. We create the difficulty.
For example, let’s say you had to sit in a room with no devices, nothing to read, nothing to do—for two hours. Many people would find this extremely boring, even excruciating. Some would simply use the time to reflect. Some might even meditate or exercise. Why the difference? We decide whether it’s boring or beneficial by choosing how we look at it. Some may find it a perfect place and time to relax and unwind. If we decide it is boring, it is.
That’s our decision. We create the experience of boredom, burden, and difficulty.
The good news is that if we create the experience, we can change it. We have the power to not be bored, annoyed, or frustrated.
The shift comes from letting go of the thoughts we have about the situation. These are what ultimately create a difficult experience. Some people say an adventure doesn’t begin until the problems set in.
“But it really is boring. It really is frustrating. It’s not just my thoughts about it!”
No, it’s not. In reality, it’s just life. We create the narrative that it’s bad or good. We can let go of the narrative as well.
If we let go of our judgments about the situation, we can create a new view: that it’s a miracle to be alive, to witness the universe, to be interconnected to other living beings. We can find so many things to be grateful for. Or we can just experience the experience, without any thoughts at all. In many spiritual traditions, this peace of mind is seen as essential to connecting to something true and grand.
It’s up to us. We can practice with these thoughts and experiences.
Using the Crisis to Practice Patience
So with this in mind, let’s use this current crisis to practice patience.
Whenever you’re feeling restless and frustrated, delight in the opportunity to practice. Look at the situation around you, and ask, “Why is this frustrating or tiresome? Why don’t I like it?”
See what thoughts come up.
“I just want it to be over. I just want some human contact. I just want to go to my favorite restaurant. I don’t like having to stay home.”
Notice that a lot of those thoughts are about what you want or don’t want. What you like or don’t like. This is about us getting our way—and we always want our way.
What would it be like to not need to get our way, but to love things just as they are?
Look around, and see the beauty in this moment. See the miracle of life and the world around you.
When you’re feeling frustrated, it’s also an opportunity to experience the sensations of frustration without judging them. What does it feel like in your body to feel frustration? Can you just experience that?
Over and over, the feelings will come up. We can just experience them, without judging. We can also tune into the thoughts or beliefs that may underlay those feelings.
These are practices of patience. And with practice, we can increase our capacity.
Leo Babauta is the author of six books, the writer of “Zen Habits,” a blog with more than 2 million subscribers, and the creator of several online programs to help you master your habits. Visit ZenHabits.net