I have been listening to a few of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s talks on mettā, loving-kindness. He explained that in many practice situations, mettā can often be used with an external, outgoing energy and making a genuine wish for other people to be happy. However, there is also an internal response that can occur for us when we express mettā in this way.
I was surprised when Bhikkhu Bodhi mentioned that the word khanti, patience, is very closely related to the word mettā. I hadn’t recognized that before. I have given a few talks on mettā and when I do, I often receive questions from people concerned with external circumstances, such as, “It’s so painful to be with this person …” or “When I’m in this situation it’s really difficult. How do you deal with that?” Most of the questions are directed toward the practice of loving-kindness as a method for sending mettā outward. But we can also turn inward rather than outward. This is where Bhikkhu Bodhi says patience comes in. We can learn to turn toward the pain we feel—toward the dukkha we are experiencing in these difficult circumstances—and to hold that dukkha with a quality of patience.
Ajahn Sucitto once said that we often think of patience as waiting for change. I will endure this situation, gritting my teeth, until it changes. Certainly we might want a painful situation to change, but with true patience, according to Ajahn Sucitto, it’s more like thinking, I will be with this situation, period. In other words, there’s no expectation that the situation will change or get better.
By learning to turn toward our suffering and simply be with it, we are staying at the level of feeling. We are not getting into the story, the proliferation, or creating a self around it. If someone says something to us and we become angry or feel uncomfortable, instead of going outward, as we typically do with mettā, we can go inward.
So when we feel pain in a situation, we can first recognize it. Then we move toward the painful feeling and explore it. If we can refrain from getting into the story behind the feeling, it will be that much easier to experience the feeling without wanting to change it. It’s merely a physical sensation or a mental perception, and we do not need to add anything to it or try to make it go away.
When we stay with a painful feeling in this way, we are experiencing khanti, true patience.
This reflection by Ajahn Jotipālo is from the book, Beginning Our Day, Volume One, (pdf) pp. 53-54.