"It's supposed to be here!" It's 5:30, and the bus scheduled for 5:20 still hasn't arrived. I keep looking for it every time I see another bus turning the corner. And every time I do, I feel more frustrated.
It's silly really because the bus is going to come when it comes. I have no control over its arrival whatsoever. What I do have control over though is micro-waiting, this short, inconsequential period of time (~10 minutes) that may ruin my mood for the next few hours.
You can even see this kind of micro-waiting in other people just by looking at the angle of their bodies. Most people will be facing the direction the bus will come from. Even though it will stop right in front of them, they still want to see it before it does. The hope, the anticipation, even the worry is displayed in their body language. I see a speech bubble above their heads yelling, "Why isn't is here yet!?"
Waiting patiently doesn't come easy for most of us. It's a struggle because we want control. Our whole day is scheduled because of meetings and deadlines. There are strong expectations to start and end on time, to keep moving onto the next task.
That thing called work, where we create something - produce a media kit, write a business case, design an email campaign, coordinate an agenda, draft a presentation, brainstorm titles, work on the budget - is packed in whenever we can get to it.
Little breathing room is afforded to let time just be. To let ourselves flow with the work, in a rhythm that fits our mood, our creative desires, our energy, and our passion. That cautious care for the thing we're producing that lets us feel like we're making art, not just checking off another item on our to-do list.
Here's how Eckhart Tolle puts it in The Power of Now:
"If you set yourself a goal and work toward it, you are using clock time...If you then become excessively focused on the goal, perhaps because you are seeking happiness, fulfillment, or a more complete sense of self in it, the Now is no longer honored. It becomes reduced to a mere stepping stone to the future, with no intrinsic value. Clock time then turns into psychological time. Your life's journey is no longer an adventure, just an obsessive need to arrive, to attain, to 'make it.'"
And so we end our day waiting for a bus, a subway, or in traffic and we can't let go of what Eckhart Tolle refers to as "psychological time."
Besides, the process of anticipating gives us something to do. The mode of "getting things done," which we just got done with at work, still runs strong in our psyche and anticipation and worry are "actions" of sorts that make us feel like we can will the impossible (the bus' arrival) into being.
What is far easier, and far more peaceful, is to remind ourselves that time doesn't wait for us. That bus will come of its own accord. The traffic will move when it does.
Accept what is.
Observe and pay attention to what is truly happening, not what you want to happen.
Allow me to narrate the "waiting for the bus" scenario as I have done for myself many times before, with the mentality of acceptance, not anticipation:
"I'm done with work. I am outside, breathing in the fresh air. My body is slowly letting go of the tensions of the day. There are other people around me looking forward to their evening. Moms and dads meeting up with their kids after picking them up from day care. Bikers, pedestrians, cars navigating the road. Buses coming and going. And me standing here just looking at the milieu. Oh, there's my bus!"
I'm just there. Not doing, but rather being, in the moment as things happen. It's truly as simple as that. This is how patience emerges to melt away all the micro-waiting anxiety that can build up in mere moments and cause us and others mental strife for hours.
This letting go and transitioning takes practice, and luckily each moment that we wait offers an opportunity to do just that. To try out methods of being patient. It's a mental shift from reacting impatiently to something we can't control to responding attentively to what's before us.
This has real life consequences, since that transition from work to home (or vice versa) truly affects how we interact with those we'll be with shortly. Do we come in with the baggage of the day? Do we pay attention to what is happening to our partners, kids, friends, or colleagues? Can we attend to ourselves and what we need in the transition?
Attention has lasting effects that stay with us moment to moment.
What makes you impatient? How do you handle it? Please comment on this post or simply email me.
What happens when you're in the middle of something, and someone comes over and asks you a question? How do you react? How do you view it? Qualify it? Label it?
Is it an interruption? A curiosity? An opportunity? An urgency? An annoyance? A disruption? A welcome?
Perhaps unexpected, but now it is a real change in what you were doing and what you are doing now. A transition to something new.
Seeing An Opportunity
And now you are creating this moment in your own fashion. You're a producer, a director, and an actor at once. Creating the narrative in your own play.
Are you not always creating? Creating your schedule, your reports, your writing, your emails, your email-checking, your weekend, your excitement, your goals, your plans, your friendships, your ideas, your happiness, your judgments, your vision, your thoughts, your confusion, your love, your habits, your moments?
Creating An Outcome
You are creating with others and your environment. In sync with the people, the places and all the things you may not even notice, like the shifting weather, the noise of the traffic, the colors of the buildings, the quality of the oxygen, or the culture of your town, state, or country. You move with it.
You own the direction of your attention by knowing you are creating it. Right now. In every moment. What are you creating? Now? And now? And now?
The Atlantic recently published a short article where a prisoner, Kenneth Gourlay responded to the pros and cons of upgraded riot-suppression training that correctional officers receive. The commentary was profound in its clarification of a famous quote by Einstein:
"You can't solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it."
Kenneth shows how this plays out in his prison system in this statement:
"I found it hard to believe the presumption that riot-suppression training is responsible for reducing prison riots despite the increased prisoner population. To the contrary, I am more inclined to think that rioting has decreased exactly because of the increase in population."
Suppressing X Does Not Eliminate X
Riot-suppression is a reaction to riots and upgrading the training regimen creates an anticipation for future riots. And the fact that future riots are a given creates a mindset for preparing to suppress them. It's a self-fulfilling cycle.
We all do this. When someone gets angry, we tell them to stop getting angry. When someone is shy, we tell them to stop being shy. And so on. The circular reasoning is never clear at first, it makes sense to approach the problem head on.
Doing The Opposite
Here's how Kenneth explains the reduced rioting:
"If correctional officers can take credit for reduced violence, it’s because of their training to avoid the use of force whenever possible and to treat their wards with the respect and dignity any human being deserves. Beyond their training in physical control, they also are experienced in addressing complaints through diplomatic communication and rational problem-solving, so problems can be resolved long before they turn into riots."
Instead of telling someone to stop being angry, create a fun and happy environment where anger can't exist. Instead of telling someone to stop being shy, start dialog that makes it easier to open up. Do the opposite of what you want to suppress.
Please share your thoughts!
The Supermarket Cart
David Foster Wallace noted something interesting in a commencement speech about the daily rigamarole of our lives:
"You will go to the supermarket. At the supermarket you will get a cart. The cart will have three functional wheels, and one wheel that spins out all curvy in a weird direction. That wheel - and thus the cart - will drive you mad. If you let it."
There are many supermarket cart experiences in our lives:
The things out of our control can take control of us very easily. The rhetoric is "If only". If only I had sat in another chair, if only I had been 10 seconds faster, if only I decided to go in a different lane earlier.
The relative past haunts us. If only you had made a different decision before you knew what was going to happen. Doesn't that sound odd? How could you have known? You're here now. You didn't make those decisions. And isn't it true that if you did, you may not even think twice about it? You might just let it pass?
What matters is what you're going to do now, in the reality you find yourself in. Will you let the supermarket cart wheel bother you the whole time? Isn't it funny how you sometimes think you "deserve" the bad cart because of something else you did that day? How you bring karma in to justify our bad luck?
You could just as easily get another cart. But maybe it'll be too small or too big or missing the grip. These mundane, random events are a part of your day-to-day life. They make up the tedium that annoy you, bother you, change your mood, affect your state of mind, and sometimes translate to a larger part of your day.
Being A Witness
This is a perfect opportunity to watch your mind work itself into a frenzy. Just observe how it thinks through all the bad. How it justifies. How it rationalizes what is happening. As you watch your mind, you'll see yourself removed from the emotionality of the situation but still a part of your surroundings. Still pushing the cart. The annoyance will melt away.
The more attentive you are to these simple parts of your life that have the power to drive you mad, the better you'll get at being a witness and not an actor and taking away that power. The quicker the negative emotions will melt away. The more sane and at peace you'll find yourself with the dumb luck you had. You might even laugh.
Please share your thoughts!