Here’s a thought I’d like to share…
In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.
This quote can bring to mind such adages as “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger,” and “We despise in others what we see in ourselves.” But that’s looking mostly at the last part of the quote, “…one’s enemy is the best teacher.”
What if we take a closer look at “in the practice of tolerance”? When I think about the practice of tolerance as a spiritual discipline, it seems very different, although subtly so, than merely tolerating. Tolerating seems to have a constricted quality, a sense of being done to, put upon, even victimized. For example, we tolerate someone interrupting us, waiting in line or in traffic, a crying baby on an airplane, and seemingly arbitrary increases in gasoline or stamp prices (can you tell I’ve been traveling a lot lately?).
To tolerate can mean we “put up with,” and it’s that sort of thing that leaves emotional residue or sludge. It leaves us feeling stressed. And stress, unmanaged, can later find its way into our words, thoughts, and actions, or can embed itself in our bodies, producing tension, aches, ulcers, and other forms of physiological distress.
It’s not like we can control the things that we tolerate, but we can work on our habit of constricting around them. In other words, we can “practice” tolerance. By that, I mean to begin to recognize the first signs of clenching or tightening. And, instead of just “muscling through,” allow yourself to learn (or be taught) to soften your internal and external reactions.
In that way, those people, circumstances, or situations become your teachers. The more severe the teacher is, the more certain you must be of your grasp of the lesson being taught! ALL skills take practice and we have to consciously CHOOSE to practice. Therefore, in the practice of tolerance, we must practice with diligence so that even when the harshest teacher appears we can meet it with a well-honed skill. Thus, our reaction no longer elicits a swift rap on the knuckles, and we can go on our way unscathed. In that way, each time a teacher appears in our lives, we can honor him/her/it with gratitude, and learn the lessons brought to us.
In yoga, as in life, we learn very little if we only tolerate things. If, however, our intention is to “practice tolerance,” then the noise outside during savasana is our teacher, as is the pose we can’t quite nail, the person that just won’t be quiet and our own monkey mind. Our teachers show up in their various forms, we meet them with respect, embrace their lessons so freely given, and then step back in gratitude as we release the constriction inherent in wishing things to be different than they are.
Wishing you kind teachers and gentle lessons,