Artful Waiting

Recently during a workshop on mindful communication, Russell Delman  asked an evocative question: “What is ‘waiting?’”

We wait in line to pay for items in a grocery store; we wait on the phone to talk to a live human being, and women in particular often wait to use public restrooms.

While we wait, many of us get agitated, wanting this moment to end so the next thing can happen: return home with groceries, talk to a real person, or relieve ourselves. We want to stop waiting so we can start something else. And, at work, we frequently wait for others to stop talking so we can start.

Feelings of impatience, even anxiety, and physical tightness can arise while we wait. We strain to escape from the present into the future and whatever is next in it, even if that “next” is yet another period of waiting.

What possibilities might appear if, instead of waiting for the future to start, we use “waiting” as an opportunity to bring ourselves more fully into the moment by paying attention to whatever is occurring, including our impatience?

For example, when waiting in both actual and virtual lines, instead of obsessing over what’s next on your “To Do List,” you could check in on your current state: body, mind, heart and spirit. You could sense your feet on the ground and pay attention to your breathing. You might even feel grateful for the gift of being alive.

Here’s a radical idea. Use waiting as an occasion to rest your mind! It is a moment in which you don’t have to do anything or figure out anything. You could pay attention to the sounds, shapes and colors around you. It could be a soothing moment of nothingness. You could experience a few rare minutes with no expectations of yourself or anyone else.

In conversation, instead of waiting for someone else to stop talking so you can talk, you could listen with fresh eyes and ears. You could use listening skills to bring yourself more into the moment with presence instead of impatience. Restate what you are hearing and check if you understand them correctly.

Any of these internal shifts of attention help relax the body and allow us to access a calm that might just help us observe the situation in which we find ourselves with compassion and put ourselves into someone else’s shoes. New insights might emerge.

In other words, waiting does not have to be something you endure with impatience. Waiting can be a time in which you connect more fully to yourself and to those around you.

Over time you might find that you are less tired and less inclined to let impatience drive you to say and do things that hurt you and hurt those around you. Artful waiting means connecting more fully to life as it is unfolding right now. It can invigorate and enable you to engage with others in more constructive ways.

Mary’s award-winning book “Talk Matters! Saving the World One Word at a Time” is available.  Click here to purchase it.

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