Waiting is not something anyone enjoys doing, yet daily we wait in varied ways. We wait in traffic, at appointments, in shopping lines; we even wait for our food to heat in the microwave. On a deeper level we are waiting for COVID to end, the time when we will gather with friends, enjoy concerts, sporting events and hugs. We may await answers to an urgent email, medical tests or new job application. While we dislike waiting, it is a regular part of our lives; why not learn the art of waiting wisely with mindfulness?
For me, waiting is much like window shopping; you longingly survey that which you cannot obtain. Standing outside looking in fosters impatience, discontentment and frustration. Given all of the systematic waiting we do, I wonder why we bristle so much at the thought of a wait. Waiting may exist as a cultural institution, but we, as the inmates of that institution, view it as a waste of time.
Welcome to Mindfulness Monday! Where we learn some easy ways to be more present “in the moment” at our jobs, in our homes, with our families and friends. Learning to recognize God and what He has for us in each divine moment He offers. We acknowledge the belief that God is with us always. We confess His presence is available to us, lifting our spirit and helping us with power and grace. Learning to “be still”, so we can hear His voice and view ourselves, others and our surroundings through His eyes.
what waiting reveals
Creation of uncertainty is the biggest problem with waiting. Even when we “expect” a wait, in some cases it still triggers a mild fight or flight reaction. The uncertainty of the length of the wait triggers feelings of impatience, anxiety and sometimes anger. Living in our modern instant gratification world, we often realize fulfillment of our needs and desires with a click, tap or spoken word. Thus our brains create “expectations” of certain outcomes and when forced to “wait”, a semi meltdown occurs.
In other cases, boredom sets in and we grab for the easiest form of “entertainment” close at hand, usually our phones. The negative impact of living in a society of instant gratification, we wire our brains for constant stimulation, decreased attention span and the absence of stillness. A more subtle deficit appears the moment we hit a waiting period and grab for our phones; a lack of self control. Addicted to continual stimulation and gratification, we simply cannot remain still in the face of uncertainty.
wisdom in waiting
Despite our impatience with waiting for everything from packages to arrive to a broken bone to heal, waiting is not a waste of time. To the contrary, the secret to good self control, contentment in life and any level of success is embracing the “wait”. Waiting often proves providential; God never hurries, but is always on time with His answers. Many times we fail to see why God has us “in the waiting room”. But later we realize we avoided an unwise decision, realigned our priorities or side stepped misfortune. The Book of Esther never mentions God’s name, but His providential fingerprints are everywhere. Imagine what may have happened if Esther did not delay her request to King Ahasuerus in Esther 5:7-8.
Patience is also a form of action
Esther exercised good self control in not pursuing her petition on that first day, and as a result the King then read about Mordecai’s service to him and realized Mordecai received no reward. (Esther 6:1-4) God orchestrated His plan for the salvation of the Jews from Haman’s wicked plan, complete with Haman and his sons hanged on the gallows he built. Certainly we do not hinder God’s plans by our lack of self control, and reluctance to wait, but we do hinder our part in them.
The Power in Waiting
What if we intentionally searched for opportunities for waiting throughout our day? And then in those moments instead of grabbing our phone, a magazine, book or other distraction, we accepted the waiting? I submit the potential for a harvest of benefits by waiting wisely with mindfulness.
- Instead of training your mind to mindlessly look for distractions, you cultivate awareness of your surroundings.
- Ability to hone your skills of perception and analyzation. As part of a training on self control and avoiding snap judgments, I was given a photo of a famous artwork and required to study it for a full 30 minutes. At first I thought this was unreasonable, but with the passing of time I began noticing details I missed with a cursory glance.
- Explore your capacity for patience, increasing your composure in the midst of uncertainty.
- Increase appreciation for moments of stillness. Noticing your body soften as you lean into the quiet, unresisting.
- Enhance creativity. Research shows when your brain is allowed even 15 minutes of silence, imagination and right sided brain activity escalate. Resulting in better problem solving and creative expression.
- Develop strength of mind, focus and attention. Without mindless distractions and stimulation, the brain’s ability to focus for longer periods of time on more complex issues is enhanced.
waiting wisely with mindfulness
Bringing action to our waiting by adding mindfulness, heightens our awareness of anxiety, tension and irritation in the body, while at the same time easing these sensations into acceptance. We remove the tension from the need to fill up time with distractions, and feel more relaxed with the stillness. Waiting wisely with mindfulness frees us from the delusions of immediacy and gratification to a sense of ease, confidence in the face of uncertainty and contentment in what the present moment offers.
There are as many ways to practice mindfulness while waiting as there are opportunities to wait. At times we anticipate periods of waiting related to medical appointments, crowded stores, or other venues involving timed service. However we also encounter unexpected times of waiting like traffic, delayed deliveries or mechanical breakdowns. The periods of waiting I address here are the everyday annoyances of waiting we encounter, not prolonged seasons of waiting. That is a topic for another post!
Waiting Wisely Through Every Day Annoyances
No matter how planned or routine our days are, we face many opportunities for waiting. in addition to the waiting intervals I mentioned previously, consider the following waiting intervals we meet most every day:
- Waiting for food to heat up, bread to toast or the dryer to finish its cycle.
- Waiting for your turn in the shower.
- Waiting for an email reply.
- Waiting for your spouse or children to come home.
- Waiting for the school bus with your children.
- Waiting for a response or direction from your supervisor before moving forward with an urgent project.
- Waiting for a return phone call.
- Waiting for your toddler to finish eating.
- Waiting “on hold” for customer service.
Undoubtedly you can think of many other things personal to your days. Start noticing these opportunities and use the practices below for waiting wisely with mindfulness. Remember, what we practice and repeat in life becomes automatic. Using every day opportunities for cultivating waiting well, enables you to regain control of your mind, strengthen self control and ease. This in turn prepares the way for receiving unexpected times of waiting with confidence and acceptance.
Wait Well with Mindfulness
If you are new to the concept of mindfulness, start with a foundation post I wrote HERE. Besides a basic overview and introduction, it also explains a simple breathing technique called, “Twenty Breaths”, which proves helpful in these waiting scenarios. Another good post for review is the one I wrote on “How Mindfulness Brings Peace to Suffering”, where you can learn how to do an easy five minute exercise called the “Mindful Check in”.
I recommend incorporating both mindful breathing techniques and the Mindful Check into your Wise Waiting arsenal! Try them together with the techniques below this week and see if you notice an improvement in your waiting posture.
mindfulness awareness assessment
- Notice the drama and reactivity that arise when you face times of waiting; especially unexpected waiting intervals. What feelings surface? Impatience? Anger? Irritation? Anxiety? Were you expecting things to transpire differently?
- Investigate how waiting feels in your body. Do you clench your jaw or hands? Are your shoulders pulled up and tense? How are you breathing? Is there uneasiness in your stomach or chest?
- Accept the drama, reactivity, feelings and tension in your body without judgement. These are all normal human reactions to waiting, whether expected or unexpected. Don’t compound your impatience, anger, irritation and anxiety, by becoming impatient, angry, irritated and anxious that you are feeling these emotions.
mindfulness waiting techniques
- Breathe. Regardless of the waiting situation, you always have opportunity to breathe. The Twenty Breaths technique mentioned above is perfect. Alternatively, you can simply begin breathing deeply and slowly, focusing on each inhale and exhale.
- Check Out. Instead of focusing on the wait, check out and begin observing the details of your surroundings with curiosity. Twice recently I remained stuck in traffic, one time I shifted my attention to the ducks playing in a near by pond, which I never noticed before, and the other time I shifted my attention to my classical music. Both instances lowered my heart rate, calmed my irritation and yielded delightful experiences I would have missed otherwise.
- Body Scan. While maintaining slow, deep breathing, begin methodically scanning your body. Start with your toes, then feet, ankles, lower legs, knees, upper legs, abdomen, fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, neck, face and head. Gently focus on each body part with curiosity, noticing any tension, discomfort, stiffness. With each exhale, gently soften that area before moving to the next one. This can be done standing, sitting, or lying down.
- Release. While maintaining slow, deep breaths, notice your thoughts one by one without judgement. Simply view them as if you see them through a window without attaching to them. I like to visualize my thoughts as if I put each one in a balloon and let it float away.
- Seek. Lean into God’s Presence in the waiting moments. Remember He orders our steps, our moments literally sift through His sovereign fingers to us. Ask Him to increase your awareness of His Presence with you in that moment.
- Submit. Instead of resisting, submit to the waiting moments and their perfect work in your life. God wastes nothing, not even intervals of waiting regardless of their mundane nature. All moments are teachers and bring to us lessons we can in no other way learn.
transform your wait time
Waiting wisely with mindfulness is not just about behavior modification or getting better at mindfulness or waiting. Employing mindfulness while waiting also nurtures a deeper relationship with time. Unlike my habit of using every spare moment for accomplishing something on my To Do list, it’s actually allowing slower periods to inform us. Creating awareness of waiting experiences enables us to glimpse the wealth of our lives.
Embracing intervals of wait time, we decelerate the hurried momentum of accomplishment. Taking back control of our minds we deflate the tyranny of distraction and technological gratification. We become more sensitive to God’s Presence and purpose in our waiting intervals, submitting to lessons hidden in those moments. At times, the most profound insights about ourselves, others and our surroundings come through intervals of waiting.
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