The patience of a patient

by Jeff McGunegle, HPCCR volunteer

Recently I had the opportunity to attend an extraordinary event.  About 36 Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region patient volunteers came together for a day of training.   The day was a humble reminder of the power in human beings, especially the power of compassion and love.

During the day, I would hear the word “patient.”  For some reason, I would feel uneasy when I heard it.  Whenever I hear a word and feel uneasy, I tend to investigate why.  I found that I have a tough time seeing the persons I spend time with as patients.  I then began to explore a better word for our relationship and after much contemplation, patient turned out to be the perfect word for me.  This focus on the word “patient” brought out even more curiosity as to why we call people who are sick “the patient.”  I could have gone to Wikipedia or Google to learn more, but I decided to look at my own experience and what a Buddhist teacher could bring to light to this thing called patience.

Be patient!  Why can’t you be patient?  Patience is the greatest virtue.  I am impatient.  You just have to be patient and everything will turn out fine.  You just have to practice patience.  I’m sure there are many more questions, phrases, and statements regarding patience or patient.  I do know that patience is a virtue.  A virtue can be defined as something that  brings happiness.  On the flip side, a non-virtue is something that brings unhappiness.  Therefore, if patience is the greatest virtue, then practicing it must bring the greatest happiness.  So if that is the case, why does it seem that so few practice it?  Hmm. . . . .

I turned to a Buddhist teacher name Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and his book How To Solve All Your Human Problems to find out more.  From the Buddhist view, patience turns out to be the anecdote for an angry mind.  He says that “patience is a mind that is able to accept, fully and happily, whatever occurs. . . .It is much more than just gritting our teeth and putting up with things. . . . Being patient means to welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other than what they are.”  Furthermore, he says, “It is always possible to be patient; there is no situation so bad that it cannot be accepted patiently, with an open, accommodating, and peaceful heart.”  He goes on to say that “when patience is present in our mind it is IMPOSSIBLE for unhappy thoughts to gain a foothold.

I do remember the times when I have used the power of patience in situations which typically bring about frustration (a form of anger).  These times are often in the car.  One time, I was on I-77 Northbound at 6:30pm.  Things were moving pretty well, and then traffic stopped.  I began to feel the temperature rise within, but a little wise voice told me, “Hey, what a great time to practice patience.”   So, I made the choice to be patient, sat there calmly and then low and behold, there was movement.  Twenty minutes later, it happened again with the same result.

Now, I am not saying that I was responsible for traffic moving or stopping the traffic, but I remember clearly that I was quite happy anyway.  What I did take away was that patience is something to be practiced.  And by practicing, one can get quite good at it and extraordinary things can happen.  It has to be pretty powerful if it is, in fact, the greatest virtue.

So, what does this all have to do with “the patient”?  Well, there are two sides to this.  One is the side of the patient, especially one facing death.  I may be wrong but I don’t think there is anyone who wants to die without peace of mind.  When facing death, there can be a lot of regret, anger, guilt, and other emotions or feelings which arise.  By being patient with these feelings and emotions, one can have a happy mind at death.  This will take some practice, and maybe that is why the person who is in this situation is labeled as “the patient.”  Even if one is not facing death as a patient, the chances of healing are much greater when you are practicing patience.  Many studies show a happy mind makes healing happen much faster.

On the other hand, as a hospice volunteer, every time I hear the word patient I can take the cue to practice patience, especially in the presence of my patient.  My happy, accepting mind is a blessing to the patient.  The patient is a continual blessing to me.  Have you ever met people who have practiced patience for a long time?  For whatever reason, they are just plain wonderful to be around and they exude an “everything will be, and is, all right” vibe.  People like these are who I want around when my time comes.

I leave you with a couple of questions.  What would it be like if we looked at “patients”, not as the sick, but as people who are practicing patience?   And, what if, through their practice, we are reminded to practice ourselves and be thankful for the kind reminder?  The world may just be a much happier, peaceful place.

Explore posts in the same categories: advocacy, awareness, end of life, hospice, religion, volunteering

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3 Comments on “The patience of a patient”

  1. David Bayer Says:

    Jeff … this is one of the best, if NOT the best, articles I’ve read on HOSPICE MATTERS. You ‘patiently’ develop your logic and as the article ends, I want to follow your suggestions … and practice patients. Thanks for your volunteer work with Hospice, but thanks more for this wonderful writing. Hope MANY read it.

  2. keate1 Says:

    I came across this wonderful piece about developing our “super powers.” Patience just happens to be one of them!!

    http://www.iam-u.org/index.php/how-to-develop-9-practical-superpowers/comment-page-1#comment-4377


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