Editor’s Note: The following is the eighth in a series of posts by Nora Murphy about the “10 paramis,” or qualities of heart-mind. With these posts, she’ll take an informal, personal approach to each of the paramis, in an effort to reveal the simple, everyday lesson in each.
“Mom, you were so rude. Why do you do that?” scolds my thirteen-year-old son after listening to me speak snippily to an unexpected caller.
I have plenty of excuses to offer him.
None of them good.
Sure, I don’t want to be solicited in the middle of dinner. No kidding I don’t want the reminder that debt collectors are hot on the trail of a friend. Of course I dislike random recorded ‘opportunities’ blasting in my ear.
But does that mean I have to be rude?
In each and every moment I have a choice. I can be rude. Or I can be kind and patient.
Patience, or khanti, is the sixth parami, which the Buddha instructed us to practice in daily life. Cultivating patience is easier when we pair it with preceding parami, wisdom. For when we shine the bright compassionate light of wisdom into tight places of impatience, the deepest truths of the dhamma can emerge.
Being a mom has been a great vehicle for observing the wisdom of patience, even when it’s hard.
When pregnant, a woman directly experiences that her body is no longer hers alone. Interdependence and no-self aren’t theoretical ideas. They are right there poking out of your belly. When the extra weight and pressure felt really uncomfortable, I remember impatiently thinking, “Oh, could I please just have ‘my’ body back?”
When the infant emerges, the parent quickly sees how much suffering accompanies life. The baby cries, gets hungry, is uncomfortable, and craves affection. For the rest of the parent’s life, helping relieve the child’s suffering comes first. We discover an innate desire to take really good care of this young being, even if sometimes it requires a lot of patience. Take bedtime for example. No matter how tired you are, the kids have to go to bed first.
In trying to relieve this suffering, parents run into a third dharma truth—impermanence. All parents know that as soon as we figure out a child’s developmental need, the child outgrows this stage and offers us a new puzzle to solve. Time-outs on the stairs worked for the three-year-old; but not the four-year-old. Now what?
Scolding me for my rude phone manners is another example of how the parent-child relationship is constantly changing. For years, I’ve instructed my children to speak kindly. Now my youngest is telling me where and when I need to speak with more compassion and patience.
So after almost two decades of parenting patience practice, why am I rude to unsolicited phone callers?
I forget the caller (even the person behind the recorded broadcast message) and I are related from the moment that I pick up the phone.
I forget that suffering—like disliking unexpected phone calls at dinner time—simply exists for all beings.
I forget that everything changes. That pleasant explosion of fried rice on my tongue wasn’t really going to last forever, was it?
Instead, I cling to what I want—quiet time to eat and relax.
I guard my heart against what I don’t want—interruptions from the world out beyond my kitchen table.
When the phone rings, however, I could observe the clinging and the aversion. I could observe no-self, suffering, and impermanence.
With patience, fueled by wisdom, I could transform these suppertime calls into moments of liberation.
In this lighter, more compassionate place, there is little room for rudeness.
But to find, and speak from, that place in our hearts, we need patience, even for ourselves. That means remembering that we often need compassion and kindness, just like children.
Oh, and it helps to have a trusted friend nearby, like a thirteen year-old son who reminds us when we’ve gone off course.