I love to wait. I love waiting in lines at the supermarket, I love waiting for the computer to boot up, I love waiting at red lights, waiting for the train or elevator to come or waiting to pull into a parking space. Why do I love waiting, because it’s a chance to come home. If I have been away, and not present, rather than see the time as “wasted” time and trying to rush into whatever is coming next, I find that any time I have a moment where I need to wait, it is good to relax back into the expansiveness of who I am. Why would I want to rush to the next moment? What could possibly be wrong with this one? The discontent that comes from waiting exists only if you think there is something better that you should be doing. That is a fast ticket to a life unfulfilled. Your life could easily be “over” while you spend it trying to get somewhere better. In that scenario you are constantly rushing to the next moment hoping to find what you are looking for, not realizing that what you are looking for is right here with you all the time. If you can’t enjoy this moment you are not likely to enjoy the next either. While you are waiting, celebrate the fact that you are alive in this moment right now.
If you are discouraged or impatient when your waiting involves other people, in addition to missing the opportunity that the present moment offers for fulfillment, chances are you are seeing the other people as obstacles in the way of you getting to where you need in a timely fashion. This is a distortion of reality. Traffic provides the perfect example. I once heard Tara Brach remark how we think that – “traffic is the other people on the road”. It was an apt observation. Traffic somehow does not include us. But of course to the car next to us “we” are traffic. Is it true that those other people are really obstacles or has our focus become so narrow that we can only see ourselves and not our connection to the others around us? They have as much of a need to be traveling as we do, but in traffic, cars will jockey around you just to get a car length ahead. In traffic, when you are impatient with the other drivers, has your “I” suddenly become much more important than all of their “I”s? Does it feel more important that you get to your destination than they get to theirs? Do you believe that you or your needs are more important than the person in the car next to you? Of course if you are rushing your pregnant sweetie to the hospital in traffic – it may actually be truer that your need is more urgent at a relative level, but most of the time is it true? How do you feel when you think about your needs being more important than others? Most of the time you are waiting discontentedly on others, it is the ego’s way of strengthening itself. There is a substantive “I” which feels separate and victimized by having to wait. However, as you reinforce your sense of a separate “ I” against the world you increase your tension and suffering, and obscure your vision of the one reality. It hurts to feel separate. It hurts because ultimately it’s a rejection of what’s true and it because you are ultimately rejecting a part of yourself.
The next time you are in traffic, if you are unable to simply be, try this tonglen meditation, offered by Pema Chodron. Pema Chodron is a leading exponent of teachings on meditation and how they apply to everyday life. She is the resident teacher at Gampo Abbey Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the first Tibetan monastery for Westerners. The beauty of such a meditation is that it diminishes the feeling of separateness. It is a way of connecting through the difficulties and challenges that we all face. Through compassion you sense oneness.
Have you ever waited in a line and had a group of people start talking about “ can’t this line move any faster” or “Why does this store never have enough cashiers” or how the train is never on time and is late again” I find that it happens quite frequently. When people are complaining yes, they are strengthening their ego and sense of self, but they are also trying to create a community. The ego is trying to reduce its feeling of aloneness but goes about it in misguided ways. It attempts to seek out “other people” and align itself with some, while judging the others. The person who is in the same situation waiting, is of course “good”, while the person behind the counter is “inferior”. This buoys the ego’s sense of self and gives a temporary feeling of relief but ultimately encourages more separation. The ego hopes to reduce its sense of separateness but to judge is to separate. It’s as if the ego says “Those people behind the counter are not like “us”, they are deficient – “we” would never act like that, but secretly the ego fears the uncertainty that it could act that way and that it could be left alone. Sometimes the ego does not make an enemy out of a specific person but out of the situation or a vague other, ascribing the horrible delay or problem to the company, or entity. Of course this strategy is still doomed too because it is still based in resistance to the moment. The line will either move faster or it will not and you can choose to be stressed about it or not. You do have a choice. You can sit in the traffic and be happy or you can sit in the traffic and be upset. The world is a mirror reflecting yourself back to you. When you are upset at something that appears to be external, what is going on inside yourself to make it feel that way? What do you gain by getting upset? The ego gains an image as a wronged self -- a temporary and unfulfilling refuge. It is no substitute for discovering presence and residing in that sacred spot
The other day the metro was running late. A woman seated next to me was visibly frustrated. Perhaps she was late for a meeting, perhaps she was trying to rendezvous with her child, perhaps she just wanted to get to work at a certain time. In any event, it does not matter. She suffered and continued to suffer throughout the train ride because she was having trouble accepting her circumstances. She was not able to enjoy the moment. There was very little she could do to control the trains but if she had been able, she could certainly have enjoyed the fact that she was alive.
There is a zen story that I have heard repeated in several places that goes something like this: once this young monk was chased over a cliff by a pack of hungry tigers. On his way down the monk managed to grab hold of some branches protruding from the side of the cliff. He held on for dear life as there were jagged rocks many feet below him. As his strength waned he also discovered some strawberries, which he proceeded to eat, happily remarking “what delightful berries”. The essence of this story lies in the monk’s residing in the now. Even though death is imminent he is able to enjoy a moment to eat a strawberry.
We do not have to be confronted with death to actually live. Cherishing each moment as if it were your last is a good way to live fully. The peace of heaven is available to us right now by simply learning to be. The more you can tap into and befriend whatever is arising right now the more peace will be a part of your life.
As the woman exited the train I voiced to her that I wished she had a good day. I hoped in my heart that whatever was troubling her subsided. I hoped that she found peace that morning.
Experiment: The next time you find yourself waiting, notice what goes on inside? Is there resistance to the moment as it is? Do you want to be somewhere else? If so, why? Are you content to simply be where you are? If you do find yourself getting impatient, notice it and use it as an opportunity to look inside at why this moment does not feel sufficient? What is missing in this moment? When did your impatience arise? What are the thoughts that appear when you are waiting? Can you notice your thoughts about other people? Are you feeling open or closed? How expansive does your heart feel?
Yesterday I waited a lot. I was supposed to board a plane but thunderstorms delayed our flight. I waited in lines for hours. I waited for my plane take off. I was curious to see if my thoughts and affinity for waiting would hold true when I had to wait for a ”long” time. I actually did enjoy my time in the lines and airport. I found myself talking to people and laughing at the situation. I often closed my eyes and just absorbed the sounds around me. Sometimes I took in all the colors and shapes in the room. It was nice to just pause and be excused to simply be.
Of course waiting provides a great moment to simply be, but those do not have to be the only times when we connect deeply to the life that animates us. The more we can be aware of that life, the more we can be the witnessing presence that allows things to arise and fall within its field the more peace and joy will be uncovered.
So the next time you find yourself waiting, experiment with embracing it as a natural moment to come home,and let me know how it goes.