The Waiting State-of-Mind
What is waiting?
When do we wait? Is it productive or positive? How often does it happen?
Typically, when we think of waiting, images of idly sitting at a bus stop or doctor’s office come to mind. Times when we're physically forced to remain in one place. Trapped, until whatever we're waiting for arrives. However, this only characterizes one form of waiting, which we'll call: "the activity of waiting"
Unfortunately, there's a far more dangerous type. This is the waiting that has no beginning and no end. The waiting that prevents us from enjoying our lives fully. We all engage in it, and increasingly few of us are able to truly escape. This type of waiting we can call: "the waiting state-of-mind".
Imagine it’s Tuesday and you get a call from an old friend who wants meet up at a local restaurant that coming Friday. You’re excited because you haven’t seen them in years even though you used to be very close. Despite your excitement, you obviously aren’t about to go to the restaurant immediately and sit for three days in anticipation. This type of behavior could be considered the activity of waiting - sitting until whatever you want arrives. This would be ridiculous.
However, your friend remains in the back of your mind that week as you go about your business. Your mental preoccupation with the upcoming reunion makes you restless and distracted. Perhaps this restlessness leads you to duck out of work a few minutes early, skip a workout, or watch reruns on television instead of starting a new book. These things happen because fixating on the future takes energy and effort. That fixation - that expenditure of energy - is the waiting state-of-mind.
When we spend our energy obsessing about the future (waiting) we reduce the amount of energy we can dedicate to the present. This means that even if we’re not physically waiting, our mental state can still impact us, changing how we experience our lives.
Even when we’re physically present, we can be mentally absent.
In light of this, we need to redefine our understanding of waiting to include “mental preoccupation”, or waiting as a state-of-mind rather than a physical action. The danger of this waiting is that usually, we don’t even realize it’s happening.
Just as we can be in a waiting state-of-mind while doing other things, we can also be seemingly “doing nothing” without waiting at all. In a sense, this is mediation. The practice of cultivating presence and awareness. We can even be physically waiting while not in a waiting state-of-mind. This requires us to be content and present.
Take for example, a man sitting at a bus stop, listening to the birds chirp in the trees and watching pedestrians walk back and forth on the other side of the street. The bus comes twenty minutes later, and he gets on having not “waited” for even a moment.
The idea that he was able to physically wait for the bus without “waiting” is important because the waiting state-of-mind is often more burdensome than the activity of waiting. While meditation can be one way to take oneself out of a waiting mindset and into the present, it isn't the only way. Simple understanding and recognition of waiting as it happens can usually be enough to put an end to the cycle. The man at the bus stop may have recognized he was becoming anxious thinking about how long it would be until the bus arrived, deciding instead to quietly observe and enjoy his surroundings. With that simple realization, he stopped waiting. He left the future and returned to his present. Consequently, he was able to enjoy the time before the bus came, the bus ride that followed, and wherever it may have been taking him.
Have you been waiting for something?