Two small birds picking fur from the back of a deer

It can be challenging knowing when to be patient and when to be impatient, when to be still and when to take action. I sometimes think that both patience and impatience are highly under-rated skills. One of my favorite quotes, from Kaz Tanahashi, a renowned calligrapher and translator is: 

“If you learn to enjoy waiting, you don’t need to wait to enjoy.” 

I remind myself of this when stuck in traffic or while on a long, slow line at the grocery store. It’s also helpful any time I find myself being uncomfortable with the pace of projects I’m working on, or any time I find it challenging to be more still.

The shadow side of patience can be avoiding conflict or difficulty. Sometimes under the guise of practicing patience, it can be a cover for not speaking up, for not taking the risk of being direct, or being vulnerable when it’s useful or important to do so. Sometimes it’s skillful and appropriate to practice impatience (for example, when it comes to responding to climate change, impatience is a to the point response).

Patience is a core practice and teaching in the Zen tradition though Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh prefers to use the word inclusiveness as a substitute. The word inclusiveness has a very different flavor; it has more depth and weight to it. The practice of inclusiveness means to not leave anything out, to see and feel from a wide, open perspective.

Inclusiveness is the practice of keeping our hearts open, especially when we feel stressed or challenged, or when reality is not aligning with our vision and expectations. Inclusiveness means questioning whatever story we tell ourselves, and realizing that our story might not be the only one.

The following five practices are generally thought of as ways to practice patience; they also work well for developing greater inclusiveness:

Turning toward difficulty – I’ve created many more problems in my life, especially as a leader by not turning toward conflict and difficulty. I find this to be an important and ongoing practice, both for myself and with many of the leaders I work with.

Perseverance, staying with it – cultivating healthy relationships takes lots of staying power. Relationships are messy. Conflict and being uncomfortable comes with the territory.

Acceptance of what is true – this means noticing when our hopes and expectations don’t align with what is. It doesn’t mean giving up on our dreams, it just means facing what is true.

Not acting hastily – this is an easy practice to name and a challenging one to do! It means moving more slowly when difficult emotions arise.

Forgiveness – this is such an important practice at work, in leadership, and in all parts of our lives. We can start with forgiving ourselves for not being patient or inclusive enough. And then moving toward forgiving others, and starting fresh when possible. This works a lot better than entertaining anger and/or blame.