I’m becoming aware of the many instances when I’m forced to wait and the ways in which I respond to them. There are countless moments, part of every-day transactions, such as staring at the floor indicator in an elevator, waiting for the credit card transaction to go through, and wishing for the queue to move at a bank or cafe. Also the tiny, barely noticeable occasions: waiting for someone to complete a thought, for paint to dry (literally, while immersed in a craft project), or pain to subside. Then there are the worry-filled waits, such as anticipating sleep with a troubled mind or dreading the hematologist’s report about that let’s-not-yet-worry malignancy.
“When we are forced to wait, say in a traffic jam, our instinct is to do something to distract ourselves from the discomfort of waiting,” writes my Zen teacher*. “We turn on the radio, call or text someone on the phone, or just sit and fume.
Practicing mindfulness while waiting helps people find many small moments in the day when they can bring the thread of awareness up from where it lies hiding in the complex fabric of their lives. Waiting, a common event that usually produces negative emotions, can be transformed into a gift, the gift of free time to practice.
The mind benefits doubly: first, by abandoning negative mind-states, and second, by gaining the beneficial effects of even a few extra minutes of practice woven into the day.
By longing for the next moment or day to roll around, I am, by extension, wishing for life to reach its end. Instead of reacting and urging it/them to hurry up, I welcome that which Chozen* calls the “gift of waiting.” With each moment being irreplaceable, mindful waiting transforms me from impatient bystander to wide-awake participant in Life itself.
Worth the effort?
*Jan Chozen Bays, MD. (2011). “How to Train a Wild Elephant — and Other Adventures in Mindfulness.” Shambhala Publications; from an excerpt in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Fall 2011. Image: The late Alan Rickman as Potter character Professor Albus Dumbledore.