Who is keeping us waiting – them or us?
You don’t often hear someone say: ‘There was a really long queue in the supermarket today – it was great!’ Instead, it’s usually: ‘Why can’t they put more staff on the tills…this is so annoying…why do I always end up behind the person who picked up the mouldy tomatoes?’
We hate being held up, delayed, kept waiting – stuck in a traffic jam, a train being cancelled, a meeting going on too long. It’s understandable that these situations feel frustrating and inconvenient especially when we have an appointment to keep. However, it’s worth noticing how we are reacting and how this is making us feel.
Often we move into resistance mode – we don’t like what is happening and we want things to be different. Our thoughts go round and round in circles as we blame others for their inefficiency, bad planning, poor driving, inconsideration etc. These thoughts feed our feelings of irritation, anger, frustration, impatience, self-righteousness and the tension builds in our bodies – our faces tight, jaw clenched, throat contracted as we suppress the things we want to say. It doesn’t feel very nice to feel all these things and yet, when we’re busy blaming the external circumstances for our increasing stress levels, we don’t realise that it is what is going on internally that is making us feel bad.
Practising mindfulness doesn’t mean that we have to like everything that happens in life or that we need to adopt an attitude of Zen calm, but it does give us the ability to minimise the stress that we experience. It gives us the clarity to see that although the delay may be inconvenient and frustrating, it is our reaction to it, and not the delay itself, that creates stress for us. Our automatic reaction often involves trying to resist something that has already happened: ‘this shouldn’t be happening!’
Often, it’s almost as if time is suspended for this period of time that we are being held up. We don’t want to be here. We want to be in some future scenario when it’s all been resolved and we can breathe a sigh of relief and tell everyone about our stressful day. And because we don’t like what’s happening, we refuse to inhabit the present moment. Instead, we zone out, we fume, we get lost in our thoughts – in effect, we keep ourselves waiting!When we refuse to inhabit the present moment (by not accepting what has happened) this not only feeds more stress into our systems, it takes away our choices and we become stuck and powerless, not liking how we’re feeling but unable to do anything about it.
If we accept what is happening or has happened (which doesn’t mean that we have to enjoy it) instead of putting all our energy into fighting it, this brings us back to the present moment where we can have a greater awareness of what is going on: ‘ah, this is happening…and it’s making me feel irritated and tense in my chest and throat – that’s not a nice feeling’. Already, we’ve changed our relationship to it, creating a bit more space around it and seeing things more clearly. From this perspective, we notice more things and can see that we have choices: we might notice that our favourite song is playing on the radio; we might the sound of a child giggling with happiness; we might phone someone and let them know that we’ll be late; we might turn to the person next to us and share some human contact; we might tune into the sensations of our breathing; we might remember that we needed peanut butter…
So if we want to have a bit more say in our wellbeing, it’s worth paying attention to all those times that we have gone into waiting mode, and noticing how this feels: waiting for the weekend; waiting for the weather to improve; waiting for a better job; waiting for a different relationship; waiting for our life to begin.
“For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time to still be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.” Alfred D’Souza