Khanti: A lesson in patience

It is towards the close of practice when I transition out of a hip stretch I have been holding for 2 min. I plant my palms step back into down dog and ahhh…My right hip feels open, supple, and strong. Immediately I go to transition to my left. Thinking my right feels so good my left needs to feel like this. Once I get my other side to feel like this then Ill feel even better. Its at this moment I catch myself. The word “Khanti” flashes in my mind and I pause in the moment. 

Khanti is a Pali word often translated as patience. As it is related to our practice, this is not a passive form of patience as if we are waiting in the doctor’s office for our name to be called. Rather it is a quality to be developed through the effort required to remain in the present moment with active attention. Not wishing you were somewhere else, that it would be better to be in another place or time. Letting go of the idea that something has to change right now in order for it to be better. These two ways in which we often become impatient in our daily lives can be recognized in our practice.

At some point it happens to all of us. The asana chase. Whether its Handstanding in the middle of the room or touching your toes in a forward fold, we have all had the thought “if only I could____ it would be better”. But this idea that there is an ultimate posture or expression that will finally leave us feeling complete is empty and dangerous. Dangerous because we can begin to attach self value to the ability to reach a certain goal we set for ourselves. Not that goals and desire are bad, but it’s when we get caught up by them and allow them to dictate our behavior from a place of reaction rather than conscious choice that our growth is hindered. The asana is simply a blueprint for effort. We take the demands of the posture, put them in our body to the best of our ability, and what is expressed is the asana regardless of its outward appearance. The benefit lies in the effort. As Darren Rhodes often says, “plenty of stretch is plenty of stretch”. 

Empty because when we finally do reach that posture we’ve identified so much with, we find the happiness we feel is only temporary and we soon begin looking for the “next level”. We are never truly happy with where we are. Because this is the only place we can ever really be anyway, we are left with this insatiable desire. And our behavior is driven again by unconscious reactions to judgment and expectation. This limitless possibility has a silver lining however. We are not bound by who or what we are right now. Our ability for growth is endless. When we are consciously making choices about what we find, we can apply that right effort to either support what we see or create the environment ripe for change. It is here that another translation of Khanti is useful, perseverance. 

Results reinforce behavior. So it is reasonable that in our physical practice we want to see change. A sort of reward for the work we are doing. There are days where things click, and seemingly all of a sudden there is a breakthrough. But is it really all of a sudden? Or is that breakthrough the result of the groundwork that’s been laid before it. The foundation that’s been built by the countless times you’ve been on the mat when nothing seems to be changing. The perseverance you’ve cultivated by showing up for yourself time and time again. In times where we perceive little change, context can be a valuable tool. Just as I am in down dog noticing the differences between sides, it can be helpful to take the long view and look at how things were a month, several months, a year, and even years before. Day to day you may not see significant change. But when compared to the old, the change is obvious. 

Ok, I see how it is I become impatient. Now what? It is exactly in this recognition that the opportunity lies to cultivate patience. To arrive in the present moment, be open to stay here and work with whatever I see. I take a deep breath, bring my left knee forward for pigeon pose and continue to practice. After all, this is a patience that requires effort.