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Busking for Patience


He entered the subway car at 86th street, holding a clipboard with some papers. He announced to the car that he had come from California to be a Minister of Music in New York City and began singing a refrain of improvised Hallelujahs, eyes closed. His voice was deep and resonant, and filled up the car. I was rapt. I was glad that he came all the way from California to sing to New York, that I happened to be in that car on that Friday morning. 

After he finished singing he asked for donations, but then he asked for something else, something I’ve never heard asked on a subway car before.

“Would anyone like to take an excerpt of the book I’m writing?”

This was taking busking to a whole new level. I wondered, is this how New York writers are trying to find agents these days? (And should I be doing this?)

As he walked through the car, a couple of people gave him money, but no one took his book. I was on the subway on the way to Columbia to teach a creative writing class, and I thought about my students, and I knew I wasn’t going to leave that subway car without his writing. As I exited the train at 96th street I extended my hand to him and he gave me the page and thanked me.

I sat down on the local train across the platform and read page 57 of his manuscript, a biblical commentary. The excerpt began with a meditation from the Bible:

“But let patience have it’s perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:4)

I have no context for this passage—I’m not familiar with the New Testament. But the line itself, in that moment, for me was unattached to any sort of religious dogma. It hit me in the gut as a beautiful reminder as I was on my way to teach.

I thought about my writing students—how so many of them feel anxious to share their work with others, afraid of what judgments people will have, or perhaps of their own self-judgment. 

And then there was this man, who was offering his writing to anybody who was willing to read it. Whether he realized it or not, he was making himself vulnerable, opening himself up to the judgments and criticisms of skeptical New York atheists who see an excerpt of the Bible and cringe involuntarily. To the judgments of grammar sticklers who notice that it should be its and not it’s and our brains shut down because this person doesn’t know how to spell. To those who don't care at all and would just rather be left alone.

I thought about the inner confidence it must take to be able to give out your writing on the New York City subway. And how that confidence comes from patience--one of the six paramitas being discussed in the IDP course on Spiritual Awakening.

In The Heart of the Buddha's TeachingsThich Nhat Hanh defines the third paramita, kshanti, as "Inclusiveness, the capacity to receive, bear, and transform the pain inflicted on you by your enemies and also by those who love you." I would add to this the pain inflicted on you by yourself. I see in the third paramita an aspiration to stay with and hold discomfort.

There is an element of patience there that is needed in writing, in any sort of creative or spiritual pursuit. Patience for the time it takes to produce something, to know something, to understand; patience and appreciation for development, for growth. Patience and appreciation for each stage of the process, not just the endpoint. Patience for our impatience. Our life can be found here in the messiness of the path, in the messiness of our emotions, in the messiness of the first, second, third, fourteenth draft. From the perspective of patience, even the misspelled words are perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 

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Kshanti -

I also find it helpful to think about "inclusiveness", and that also makes me think of the phrase "holding space". Engaging kshanti, we hold space for ourselves and for others.

Definition of kshanti!

When Ethan asked for translations of kshanti last night, I knew that Thich Naht Hahn's translation was one I preferred over "patience," but I could not remember it. Thank you for quoting him. I wish I had remembered it last night. Kshanti is our ability to be the vessel that transforms pain.

Thich Naht Hahn seems to have faith in our ability to work with ourselves and others. I think that Thich Naht Hahn focuses on us being the vessel that takes in outside energy, because we have volition, intention, meditation, reflection and willpower, but we are not in control of other people, and therefore we take as a practice the desire to be inclusive of those who are causing us pain.

I like the word and meaning of "inclusiveness" for kshanti.

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