1. Waiting and persistence are virtues here and now. Behavior of „let’s get and enjoy today’s pleasures fast” is such a form of „runaway selection” that destroys the chance of sustainable development with increased consumption of goods. "In those who are really able to wait, a profound patience is born that is not at all less regarding its beauty and meaning than all what they are awaiting for.” (János Pilinszky) Our desires which are not fulfilled for a long time may improve us much more than those which become accomplished quickly.
2. The liberating and creative strength of patience. Virtues of waiting and persistence liberate us. If we do not obey our first reflexes but we think our situation over thoroughly, more creative and optimal solutions may emerge in our minds. (If you wish to know how, please read the post.)
3. Why patience has become one of the key elements of wisdom specifically today? The wise avoids the extremes. But the wise does more than that. If circumstances drive towards one of the extremes the wise moves just to the other. That is why we should deliberately slow down when life accelerates around us. (If you wish to know how patience becomes a way to save the harmony of the world, please read the post.)
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1. Waiting and persistence are virtues here and now
A significant part of the Western world has been living in an era rich of resources in the past fifty years. In this community an easy access to goods has devaluated the joy of growth. Growth has become a default, a natural phenomenon. Behavior of the Hungarian folk-tale’s “little dumpling” (which swallows all goods until it bursts) has spread all over. (One may also cite here the distasteful but unforgettable Monty Python sketch "Mr. Creosote blows up".) Overconsumption has devaluated the virtues of waiting and persistence, because – as it is said by many – „it is a fool who does not enjoy the easily obtainable goods of this era”. This approach can not only „be anathematized” on a moral basis but it evokes fearful dangers, too.
Behavior of „let’s get and enjoy today’s pleasures fast” is such a form of „runaway selection” that destroys the chance of sustainable development with increased consumption of goods. Such a behavior turns people feeble on the long run, which in case of decreasing goods makes their switch to the other, more moderate consumption strategy rather impossible. It is scientifically proven that the „big” phenotype (consuming a lot) is able to switch to the „small” phenotype (consuming a little) only after three generations. We should not forget either that welfare society belongs to a vanishing minority compared to the whole world. Close to two billion people of the world live under the poverty minimum income of 1.90 USD per day. In conclusion, waiting and persistence have become key values of both preparing for the future and preserving social cohesion.
Nicholas Carr’s book described that the emergence of the Internet motivates us to collect (in better cases: to synthesize) tiny bits of information. This may decrease the emergence of deep thinking and creativity of our mind, which were frequently inspired by the long hours of continuous reading of the same novel in the past.
János Pilinszky describes the beauty of waiting as follows „The child who is longingly waiting for the first snowfall – does well and his dreams are actually worth of a long-long snowfall. The one who is preparing to go home is already at home during this preparation of the mind. ... In those who are really able to wait, a profound patience is born that is not at all less regarding its beauty and meaning than all what they are awaiting for.” It is worth thinking deeply about the truth of these lines.
A wonderful example of the strength of waiting and persistence is the saving of St. Ladislau Church sentenced to demolition, in Nagyvárad in 1964 during the Gheorghiu-Dej dictatorship: „Evening has come. Candles are lit. Ten candles, a hundred candles, a thousand candles. As if it wasn’t the celebration of Pentecost but All Souls’ Day and as if they didn’t light in the heart of the town but at the "Olaszi" cemetery. Women and maidens are getting tired of kneeling one after the other. Other women and maidens take their places. They take over the candles or light new ones. Just as it was a military relief. More and more candles are taken out from bags. As if factories would have cast all the candles for years to be lit together here, around St. Ladislau Church. As if a bloody, fiery wreath would entwine the assaulted church. There are candles in the hands of the humble Catholic, the stubborn Calvinist and the contemplative Orthodox. Hungarians, Jews, Romanians. In the surrounding streets men do not move either. Neither those in glad rags, nor the ones in uniforms do. They occupy different streets very close but still very far away from each other. Silence and stillness are really frightening. Candles are lightening continuously around St. Ladislau Church for two and a half days. How many people do change places on their knees without a pillow on the pavement? For how many times does the fear sweeps over them? Because they were women and children, although they could feel that their husbands’ and fathers’ eyes looked out them from the nearby streets. Men changed each other there, too. A war battle could not have been planned more carefully than Nagyvárad people: Hungarians, Romanians, Jews, Catholics, Calvinists and Orthodoxes organized themselves.” (excerpt from György Beke's short story published in "Kortárs" magazine in 1999) After two and half day of kneeling and praying the order to demolish the church was revoked. It is standing now, intact, and renovated.
From the virtue of waiting and persistence derives the seemingly paradoxical statement that our desires which are not fulfilled for a long time may improve us much more than those which become accomplished quickly. (A high level of self-development is when we realize that we should have not wished at all what we had wished – I will deal with these virtues in later posts.) A well-known example of the advantages of being able to wait is the marshmallow-test, in which children are left alone with a marshmallow in a room with the instruction that if they can resist eating it for a few minutes they will be given one additional piece. It is worth watching the suffering of children how they try not to eat the candy in this video. Those who fail the test and eat up the marshmallow will have much more problems (as average) in their lives than those ones who can think on the long run and wait for the second candy as a reward. It is worth keeping in mind that according to the scientific results persistence is a behavior-pattern learnt from parents, i.e. our own mistakes may descend to our children, too.
The prayer of Saint Exupéry provides a great summary of the virtues of waiting and persistence: „Save me from the naive belief that everything in life has to go smoothly. Give me the sober recognition that difficulties, failures, fiascos, and setbacks are given to us by life itself to make us grow and mature. ... I know that many problems solve themselves, so please teach me patience.”
Patience also means a wish that the wrong will become good. Martin Luther highlighted in the 1519 explanation of "forbearance" in St. Paul's epistle to the Galatians (5:22) that the original Greek word was neither "hupomone" in the sense of enduring, steadfast waiting, nor "anoche" in the sense of forbearing tolerance but "makrothumia", which is patience in the sense of "longsuffering" hoping that the wrong will become good, that it will be saved, and not even thinking on revenge.
2. The liberating and creative strength of patience
All things have their season…
A time to get, and a time to lose.
A time to keep, and a time to cast away.
The virtue of waiting can make us realize the value of humility. We may learn that it is not us who determines when something can be fulfilled or not. It is important to learn how we can experience the time which is not our lives’ limited duration but the time of much bigger time-scales, where changes stretch over generations after generations. Virtues of waiting and persistence liberate us. They set our souls free of our own lives’ limits and make them able to experience dimensions of much bigger scales. It is important to think about the words of Paul the Apostle: „power is made perfect in infirmity” (2Cor 12:9)
Suppose you succeed in breaking the wall with your head.
And what, then, will you do in the next cell?
Patience gives a chance of engrossment and deliberation. The Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman's book, Thinking Fast and Slow shows that if we do not obey our first reflexes but we think our situation over thoroughly, more creative and optimal solutions may emerge in our minds.
The evolution of originality often requires many years. By then the mind has rephrased the question again and again, has already tried millions of combinations as possible solutions and has found the only one which is really original and useful.
3. Why patience has become one of the key elements of wisdom specifically today?
One of the key elements of wisdom is the „golden mean” in Buddhism, Confucianism and the writings of Aristotle. The wise avoids the extremes. But the wise does more than that. If circumstances drive towards one of the extremes the wise moves just to the other. That is why we should deliberately slow down when life accelerates around us. That is the reason why patience has become a surpassingly important virtue today.
As a closing idea I would like to introduce the virtue of patience as an important element of our contribution to the preservation of the world’s harmony with this beautiful thought of Buddhism: „As the bee collects nectar and flies away without damaging the flower or its color or its scent, so also, let the wise person dwell and act.” (Dhammapada, 49) These thoughts already lead to a deeper understanding of the significance of humility. This will be the topic of the next post.
Postscript: I would like to apologize that my native language is not English. I am especially not familiar with English phrases concerning spiritual life. I would like to ask all Readers whose native language is English to send any corrections to email@example.com. Thank you very much for your help (and patience) in advance! (I hope as time passes there will be fewer and fewer mistakes in the text.)