Practice

learning to wait

“WHAT DO WE WANT?”
“PATIENCE!”
“WHEN DO WE WANT IT?”
“NOW!”

courtesy Robert Dunlap, Flickr CC
courtesy Robert Dunlap, Flickr CC

As lovely as our technological information age has become, it’s certainly speeded things up. One of the reasons I enjoy reading about history is because it puts some things in perspective. When I think about the years my grandfather and grandmother spent apart, only connected by the occasional letter wending it’s way through World War II across the Atlantic, it makes “I just texted her. Why didn’t she respond?” seem a little silly.

I think we all have our particular bouts with impatience. Frustration at waiting in line at the bank, the delay while the server has the audacity to take another table’s drink order, wondering when that Amazon package will ever arrive because it said Two Days and it’s, like, 20 minutes past 48 hours right now!

Has anyone estimated exactly how much time we, as a collective culture, spend watching task bars fill or animated spinning color wheels and hourglasses rotate? It seems like a long time, but in reality, it’s not. I remember working in the early days of non-linear video editing, waiting overnight for a three-minute clip to render. Today on my desk it takes about two minutes…and yet I find the need to fill that two minutes with some kind of busy-work, because I can’t waste time.

The Ten Breath Trick

However, my real achilles heel in terms of cultivating patience comes during morning meditation. I love it, don’t get me wrong – for fifteen minutes my job is to just sit there. Not to plan anything, not to produce anything, but simply to be there now.

Ah, but the monkey mind is tricky. And the concept of now stretches into a worrisome question of too much time. I start to feel that perhaps I didn’t set my timer quite right, or my phone is muted, or any other number of reasons why I might be sitting too long. It’s supposed to be fifteen minutes, but there have been times when either through mishap or deliberate deception I’ve sat for longer than I intended.

Occasionally the brain monkeys convince me to actually check the phone app that I use to time my meditation; most of the time, I look at it right about the time that there are two minutes or less left in my time. And then I feel silly, and impatient, and like a Bad Buddhist.

However, I have developed a trick that works pretty well for focusing myself back on the here and now, while at the same time satisfying the Buddhist Overachiever sitting in “judgement asana”* in the back of my mind. It goes like this:

  1. Breathe in slowly while counting: 1-2-3-4-5
  2. Let the air sit in the lungs while counting again: 1-2-3-4-5
  3. Relax the lungs, letting the natural contraction slowly let the air out: 1-2-3-4-5
  4. Sit in that empty space of no-air, realizing there’s no rush to breathe: 1-2-3-4-5
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 ten times.

I’ve never actually gotten to ten breaths. Every single time I’ve done this exercise, whatever it is that I was waiting for – in this case, the chime announcing my fifteen minutes are up – interrupted the breathing.

It becomes a win-win situation. I’m no longer being impatient – I’m focusing on breath, on the now. It quiets the brain monkeys, and at the same time if I am able to complete the ten breaths it probably means that the thing perhaps is taking too long.

Meanwhile, I’ve had a nice little centering interlude.

It works for more than meditation, and I’d invite you to try it the next time you find yourself in some moment of impatience. Think of it as a low-tech version of Candy Crush, Angry Birds, Kindle, or whatever you usually do.

In other words, don’t fill time. Let time fill you.

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