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Biding Our Time

In our fast-lane, computer-driven lives, do we have the patience to wait out the war against terrorism?

November 15, 2001|DUANE NORIYUKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As we shook our fists and repaired our hearts, there was a pause when it was brought to our attention that the war on terrorism would not be decided at the end of four quarters or nine innings. That it would require, among other things, patience.

After all, we Americans spend thousands of dollars on computers only minimally faster than our last, watch television behind an arsenal of remote controls, created the term "road rage" for our feather-trigger tendencies, and nearly fall to our knees at the supermarket when the cashier leans into a microphone and speaks those unmerciful words: "Price check, please." Yet now, Americans are being asked for the seemingly impossible, to have patience in the war on terrorism.

Patience?

Physiologically, our adrenaline gushes, our eyes dilate, our hearts pump like pistons on the 405. On days like Sept. 11, our spirits hunger for justice to preside and for peace to be restored. And despite this week's gains in the war at hand, an end is not in sight. Indeed, analysts and politicians say we may face years of international conflict. But still we seek quick resolution, and to that end our bodies are braced for action. It's a national characteristic, to be sure, but it's also a deeply human trait.

"It's very protective," says psychiatrist David Feinberg, medical director of the UCLA Neuropsychiatric and Behavioral Health Services department. "If you have danger in front of you, you want to be on your toes, so to speak, but then we're asked to breathe deeply, relax and be patient, and the two are in direct conflict, so it's very hard to do."

So, when President Bush looks into the camera and speaks to the nation of resolve and conviction then asks that we be patient, we breathe deeply. We wonder--as justice awaits, bombs fall, airplanes crash and life around us changes forever--how is that possible? To find answers we look to our pasts. We look to the monk, the professor and the fisherman. We look to champions and a relative of a missing child. Then, again, we breathe deeply.

The Buddhist

In Buddhism, patience is one of "six perfections" that form a foundation in the quest for enlightenment. The others are generosity, ethical discipline, perseverance or joyous effort, meditative concentration and discriminative awareness or wisdom, according to the book "Healing Anger: the Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective" (Snow Lion Publications, 1997) by the Dalai Lama.

There is no evil like hatred,

And no fortitude like patience.

Thus I should strive in various ways

To meditate on patience.

These are words translated from Shantideva's "Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life," discussed in the book. The Dalai Lama further states, "The only factor that can give refuge or protection from the destructive effects of anger and hatred is the practice of tolerance and patience."

The Rev. Kusala, a Buddhist monk who also serves as chaplain at the Garden Grove Police Department and UCLA, rode a Suzuki Volusia motorcycle from his home at the International Buddhist Meditation Center in Los Angeles to his parents' home in Wisconsin in September. "Five thousand miles," he says, "13 states. No cell phone."

Like much of life, Kusala says, it was a lesson in patience--stress and discomfort caused by careless drivers, changing road and weather conditions. "Once you accept those things," he says, "then the ride is the way it's supposed to be."

One of the ways to achieve equanimity, perfect balance of mind, nirvana, he says, is to practice patience, and a good way to practice, he tells students, is to go to a convenience store or busy grocery store and choose the longest line.

"That," he says, "is how you practice patience."

The Fisherman

Along the path to enlightenment one might encounter the saintly, the searchers and Curt Gowdy. The 80-year-old retired host of "The American Sportsman" learned about patience from rod and reel and the lessons of nature.

"A lot of what I know," he says, "I learned from fishing. Fishing has been my life, and I can tell you that you have to have a lot of patience."

Gowdy was introduced to the sport at age 6, when his father, a railroad dispatcher in Cheyenne, would take him to the Wyoming waters. Even there and even then, there were days when Gowdy would toss down an empty creel in disappointment and frustration.

"My dad would lecture me on it, saying, 'Come on, now, calm down and be patient. If we don't get 'em today, we'll get 'em tomorrow."'

Gowdy tells of filming a fishing show about eight years ago in New Zealand, where he arrived to streams of cobalt blue, filled with water so clear that the fish could see you coming. In a river called Rangitiki, there were huge boulders creating shadows and magnificent pools where trout lingered.

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