I remember a day when I had the good fortune to be sitting in a hospital and waiting for a friend. While I sat there, it struck me as odd that I used to say, "I'm waiting" as though I had a mouth full of barbed wire. It was a nuisance. It was irritating. A complete and utter waste of precious time.
But down the years, I've learned a thing or perhaps even two, and now I rather enjoy waiting.
To be honest, I do not enjoy waiting when it is for something unpleasant, something awful. When you know bad news has packed its suitcase and is on its way to see you or at least has said it might stop by and say hello on its way to visit somewhere else.
But that doesn't mean I enjoy waiting only when it's for something good either, because I've discovered that waiting has a joy all its own. How did I get there?
Well, step one was in learning to tolerate waiting, and that was about being patient.
When you have kids, you spend an awful lot of time waiting. I used to be ridiculously impatient, but over many years I had five children. When you become a parent, you get three choices: become patient, hurl yourself off a bridge, or end up in a room with quilted wallpaper.
Okay, so I learned to tolerate waiting. Did I like it? No. So it still felt like a waste of time. But then I learned the Buddhist art of being mindful. Such a simple concept, but my goodness, how it changes life for the better. When practicing mindfulness, time slows, your body slows, your breath slows, your blood pressure settles. You learn to notice and let go, notice and let go. It's all about observing, watching, drifting peacefully from one moment to the next, as you notice and appreciate each one before moving on to the next.
For a very long time, a typical day for me has meant about 14-16 hours of work. Sometimes, it's even 18 and occasionally 20. This includes weekends. It's a good job that for me, "work" is enjoyable and involves being creative, doing things I love.
Because I enjoy what I'm doing for "work", it's easy for me to forget to "play", to goof off, to just chill and do nothing. And so, the Universe gently reminds me to take a break sometimes by offering the blessing of waiting.
Somewhere along the way, I realised that I could use waiting as a mindfulness meditation. It offers an opportunity to notice the lines in the wood grain on the floor and see how pretty they are. And let the thought go. It's an opportunity to notice the birds' cheerful song...and let it go. The sound of passing cars...and let it go. The way the chair feels under me...and let it go.
I notice the snippets of conversation between people who are sitting nearby, and let them go. I notice my body, the feel of my tongue as it rests in my mouth, my elbows as they touch the chair, the slow and gentle rise and fall of my tummy as I take each breath. And I let each thought go as it gives way to the next and the next, noticing and letting go.
The more you notice and let go, the more you relax. Anxiety is worry about the future, so as you stay in the 'here and now', anxious thoughts melt away because you know that all your remaining moments will take care of themselves as you get to them. For right here, right now, in this very moment, all is well.
And if all isn't well, you let go of those thoughts as you focus on all your other experiences in this moment, and you know that your life in this moment is not just about the pain. Like every other moment, the painful ones will all pass too.
The more you focus on what you experience right here and right now, the more present you are in your life. If you're thinking about ten minutes from now, or tomorrow, or next week, or when you retired, you're missing what's happening in your life right now, in this moment.
If you're thinking about earlier this morning, or late last night, or last week, or 27 years ago, you're missing what's happening in your life right now, in this moment.
Being mindful allows you to stay connected with yourself and your life. All it takes is a constant flow of noticing and letting go of what was noticed.
An excellent place to begin practicing mindfulness is when you're eating. Notice every detail, as you raise your arm and use your hand to pick up the fork. Marvel at your body and how amazing it is that you're able to do this - especially when some cannot.
Notice the fork as you hold it between your fingers. Notice how your mouth begins to water as you scoop food onto the fork. Notice the aroma of the food. Look at it. Think about where it came from, how many processes and people it took to get it from where it began until it landed on your plate, from people who planted seeds to people driving the lorries to get the food to the shops - and the workers there, too.
As you raise the fork toward you, notice your mouth opening. Notice where your tongue is as the food goes into your mouth. Pay attention to your lips closing around the fork, and how they feel as it slides back out of your mouth. Notice the texture of the food and everything that happens in your mouth as you chew.
I could go on but I'm sure you get the point. The more detailed you are in being mindful, the more benefit you will derive, as it improves overall health and well-being. It brings clarity of focus and thinking, improves concentration, deepens insight and intuitive wisdom, increases resilience to change, strengthens relationships and improves self-confidence.
It can significantly reduce stress which offers many health benefits all by itself.
I'm so grateful that now I see "waiting" as a delicious opportunity to be mindful. I accept it as the Universe gently offering a respite from my long work days. No longer does it feel like barbed wire in my mouth. No longer do I see "waiting" as doing nothing, or a monumental waste of precious time.
Oh, no. Not at all. Now, I'm happy to say, as though it is a most important job, "I'm waiting." And it is a most important job because it affords me the opportunity to be mindful of every moment of my life.