Research shows we spend more than five hours a month waiting in lines. That’s almost three full days a year.
Waiting in line provides a perfect opportunity to practise mindfulness. Instead of reaching for your phone to remove you from the present moment, you can WAIT (Watch, Accept, Investigate, Tend). Instead of getting wrapped up in the story in your head about how miserably slow this line is, and how all the other ones are moving faster, you can WAIT.
When you spend your time wishing everything would just go faster, you’re not fully present. Mindfulness teaches that no moment is an on-the-way moment. The next time you find yourself frustrated while waiting, try this practice to bring yourself into the only present moment you have.
Take a moment to be present and observe what is happening right now.
What do you see, smell and hear? What’s actually happening around you in the present moment? Imagine you’re a camera, taking in everything in your field of view, without judgement or commentary – what would be in the frame?
What is here is here.
You’re not going to be able to change the length of the queue. Allow what is. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a US professor and founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, says: ‘Everything is part of the curriculum.’ What can you learn from this moment? This may be a good time to practise gratitude for the ease with which you can acquire the things you need, with little more than the slight inconvenience of a wait. Perhaps you can use this moment to focus on your breathing. It doesn’t mean you have to enjoy queueing. But you’ll make yourself unhappy if you spend the entire time wishing you were somewhere else, instead of right here, in this queue.
What stories are you making up right now?
Are you trying to convince yourself that the lines are long only when you’re in the store? Are you telling yourself that you’re in a big hurry and wondering why everyone else can’t just hurry up? Once you know what stories you’re telling yourself, go back to your camera view from the first step. Is your story true? Is there any evidence to support it?
No one likes queueing.
You may indeed be in a hurry, with lots on your plate today – an important appointment you need to get to or an impatient toddler at your side who’s making the wait seem unbearable. Tend to yourself with compassion. Simply tell yourself: ‘Yes, this is hard right now. What can I do to be kind to myself?’ Maybe it’s finding a place to sit or even realising you’ll have to return another day. Maybe it’s striking up a conversation with another person in the queue. Tend to those around you, too. Long queues of customers can’t be easy for the people who serve them. Send some kind thoughts or words to the people doing their best to help you. You don’t need to reserve this practice just for the times when you’re queueing either. You can practise WAITing while:
you’re stopped at a red light
your browser window is loading
the shower is warming up
the coffee is brewing
your table is being readied at a restaurant
a friend is on their way to meet you
Think of the possibilities. You can transform five hours of your month into a meaningful practice. What are you waiting for?
This article was originally published in Issue 14 – Embrace the Positive