To be human is to unfold in time but remain discontinuous
– Maria Popova
Before the internet we used to write letters. Letters are so different than IMs or texts. They take time to write. They take time to send. Then there’s the envelope, a stamp, finding a big old mailbox and even remembering to bring the letter with you when you leave the house…
And once it’s sent, your words wait in undelivered limbo. They land at an unknown time, and mystery encases the arrival of a response.
Letter writing is so rich in romance and deep connection. I think that may be because waiting, or space-in-time invites the learning and challenge inherent in encountering the unknown.
I’ve always been hyper-efficient with lots on the go. So by extension, I kind of sucked at waiting. I confronted this mostly clearly in Spain. I wanted to travel after University but couldn’t afford it – my solution was finding a host of travel jobs. In Spain in my early 20s I worked as an English teacher. The job was a huge struggle for me because my students would show up late – every single time. If I taught them in their home, I would arrive at the agreed-upon-hour to find them in no way ready. I would have to awkwardly wait while they brushed their teeth (at 11am), or ate some breakfast/lunch that they were invariably in the middle of preparing!
I remember one day that I waited 90 minutes in a cafe for one of my students named Laura. After one hour I started to get mad – ‘so disrespectful’ – I thought (so ethnocentric to judge ‘early’ as ‘better’ than relaxed and late, I think now ;)! This was before cell phones, so despite being annoyed, I kept waiting. I couldn’t risk losing the future classes. When she finally arrived she had a big smile, ‘Hola que tal?’ She just sat down and pulled out her stuff… like nothin!’
I was flabbergasted, and it was in that moment that I realized that this was about me, and not about Laura, or my ‘disrespectful’ students. This obsession with timeliness was cultural and I had something to learn.
I realized on that day, that I needed to reframe the word “wait” entirely. I had to start seeing it as time won, instead of time lost. I would no longer lose time waiting for a subway, or late train. Instead, I decided, I would consciously view the wait, as bonus time – a chance to read a book, write in my journal, practice on-board airplane-chair yoga!
The lesson in that cafe in Salamanca, Spain was such a hugely potent one for me. For some reason I can’t, to this day, shake my Canadian punctuality, but instead of being annoyed, I try my best to approach waiting as a bonus – even if nowadays it’s usually a bonus email, phone call, or other to dos.
I think I’m not alone in struggling with waiting. I find as with anything else, seeing waiting for what it is – wow, this is hard! – is empowering in some ways. Waiting for a response, waiting for a job application to get back to you, waiting for something to begin.
Claiming the challenge seems to somehow mitigate its side effects. Just like when you’re lying in savasana at the end of a class and you know that the day awaits. Just saying to myself – “this waiting on the floor thing is hard. I see how much I want to get up and DO something.”
So many yoga lovers experience savasana as a wait for “Namaste” or for the first person to leave. As a teacher we can see it in the bodies – tight, bound up, any sound that signifies that someone else is moving (or leaving) makes them move (or leap) off their mat. We solve it by giving a foot massage, or more sustainably by helping to redefine savasana as a chance to learn how to let go, and let live.
Being without doing is a challenge, and embracing the challenge loosens the hold. We let go, we release, we allow for the mystery in emptiness. And in those waiting moments away from a phone, we may even have time to practice the long lost Socratic practice of – thinking.
What deeper learning is there really? Is there anything better than the moment when you get this in your body-mind-spirit? Is there any better experience when you realize yourself that you’re waiting out savasana, and you choose powerfully, to replace the wait by falling back into the shimmering glow of undefined mystery.
Jimmy Cliff wrote a song that was covered by Jerry Garcia, Willie Nelson and countless others –
Sitting here in limbo
Waiting for the tide to flow…
Well, they’re putting up resistance
But I know that my faith will lead me on.
Then there’s Tom Petty –
The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you get one more yard
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part.
Why are we humans writing songs about waiting? Well, maybe it’s because waiting is like love – so filled with the huge learning of confronting the unknown.
So I like to ask myself as often as I can remember to – where else am I waiting when I could be letting go, thinking or taking in the wholeness of life?
Through these trying times I feel particularly motivated to explore the necessary wait times in life and to work alongside everyone willing to ride the highs, the lows, and the in betweens. And when we embrace the wait as a chance to be still, as a bonus rather than a boon, as the bright light behind the setting sun, we face the next thing ahead of waiting with a recharged battery and a readiness to forge forward into solutions.