Waiting causes frustration, because the passing of time is one of the few things still completely out of our control. An unstoppable, immutable force that humankind has failed to master to even the smallest extent. Waiting is in many ways the punishment for that failure (or perhaps the punishment for the attempt). It makes us feel powerless as we sense time is passing too quickly or too slowly.
In neuroscience, it’s been shown that having control over our environment is a neurologically satisfying condition. It’s why we feel better unnecessarily carrying a sweater on a walk or over-packing our suitcase for a trip. We feel secure knowing that if our environment changes, we, as all-powerful humans will be able to change it back. Unfortunately, unlike temperature, food availability, or any of the other environmental contingencies that humans have succeeded in mitigating the effects of, we remain helplessly at the mercy of passing time. This makes it one of the scariest concepts that modern, sheltered, and food secure humans must cope with.
Patience (and presence) therefore entails an acceptance of our powerlessness against time. Patience requires us to relinquish our desire for control and accept that some things are beyond our reach. Conversely, we often think of “not waiting” as synonymous with impatience. However, when understanding waiting as a mindset, we see that these are actually opposite phenomena.
“Not waiting” entails not fixating on the future, whereas impatience entails frustration due to a lack of presence. Impatience is inherently negative, while "not waiting" is at the heart of mindfulness and presence.
We generally fail to see this because when we conceptualize waiting as an action, “not waiting” equates to doing something immediately, whereas when seeing waiting as a mindset, “not waiting” means being present during the time before an anticipated event. In this way, people who do not wait cannot be impatient. It is only people who compulsively choose to wait, by fixating on the future who become frustrated with their own waiting.
For our collective health, we may benefit from culturally redefining the significance of phrases such as “don’t wait” that suggest waiting as an activity, to be ended by immediate action. These calls encourage us to reject the natural passing of time. The same phrase however could be a call to completely accept the natural passing of time. “Don’t wait” could mean, “don’t act immediately, but also don’t spend your time wishing something would happen before it’s meant to”. This would require us to understand the necessity of time elapsing between events and focus on being present in each passing moment. With this, it becomes clear that impatience and not waiting are in fact complete opposites.
One undeniable difficulty of not waiting is that it requires us to appreciate, respect, and accept each present moment, even when they evoke negative emotions or reactions. When the present is difficult, we naturally want to devalue our experience, minimize its impact, and hope that it passes quickly. In these times, our perspective is narrowed as our focus is brought directly onto our suffering. We’re overwhelmed, as our mind struggles to move elsewhere. We become confused and fatigued by the present, leading us to think about the past or fixate on the future. Such attempts at distraction not only prevent us from understanding our struggles but also lead to perpetual patterns of similar behavior.
When we respect each moment, we see its inherent value and refuse to sacrifice it. We allow ourselves to step back. To see the entire portrait of our existence, including both the dark and light. We begin to worry less about a sloppy brushstroke or a crooked line. We begin to realize that there’s no point in finishing sooner or later. We begin to understand that we’re the painter, not the painting, and that putting down a shadow can add as much beauty as a ray of light.
No time is unappreciated. No time is wasted.
Realizing the value of the present can help lessen our desire to change the pace of passing time or fixate on the future (or past). This brings a contentment in knowing that future events will come as they will, bringing enjoyment or hardship, while present events are also experienced to their fullest.