“Waiting Is”—a phrase immortalized in Robert Heinlein’s celebrated sci-fi novel Stranger in a Strange Land.
For most of us waiting is not easy, often a bore. Waiting for a bus or train, we look for something to do to pass the time. Sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, we idle away the minutes thumbing through magazines of no particular interest.
We want the waiting to be over with, so that we can get on with whatever is the next task at hand. Yet in treating waiting this way, we deny ourselves a most valuable opportunity.
Pure waiting, not waiting for any event to happen, just waiting without wanting, can be a profound spiritual practice.
When you simply wait, not waiting for anything in particular, not wishing things were different than than they are, the mind relaxes. And, as you let go of wanting, you will probably find your awareness of the present moment expanding.
Many, from Buddha to Ram Dass and Eckart Tolle, have encouraged us to be more aware of the present, to “be here, now”. And numerous practices aim to help us become more aware of the present. Most, however, lead to focussing of the attention on some aspect of the present—the breath, a visual object, a mantra. The focus may be effortless, nevertheless it is there, a very faint directing of the attention.
With pure waiting, on the other hand, there is no attempt to be aware of any particular aspect of the present. Instead, with nothing to do, no particular thing to wait for, there is space for more of the present to reveal itself. We begin to notice aspects of our world we were not aware of before—the sound of a clock, or a distant conversation; a tree gently waving in the breeze; the touch of clothes against the skin. It does not matter what. It will probably be different every time, simply because the present is different from one moment to the next.
As you get the hang of simply waiting, you will find yourself being present in a relaxed, innocent, undirected way.
So the next time you have to wait for something, use the time as an opportunity to become more awake. Instead of waiting for that something, simply wait. No expectations. Simply stopping, and waiting, with an open mind.
Nor do we need to wait for a late bus or be sitting in a “waiting room” before we can practice waiting. Any moment of the day we can choose to pause for a while and simply wait.
Waiting without expectation for whatever is next. Maybe a bird flies past the window. Perhaps the refrigerator starts up. Or we find we have wandered off on some thought. It doesn’t matter. Waiting is.
You can start right now. Pause. Take a breath. Relax… And wait…