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If I’m waiting for the subway, and it hasn’t come, and it should have come ten minutes ago, and two trains going in the opposite direction have pulled into the station, loaded up passengers, and gone on their merry way, and meanwhile, the crowd waiting with me is growing in size and growing in impatience, I often meditate.
I notice my reaction, my increasing level of stress, and how I’m amplifying my own unhappiness. If I’m lucky enough to be sitting on a bench, I close my eyes and begin to follow my breath. I try not to be in a waiting state of mind.
Sometimes this strategy works. Sometimes it’s completely unsuccessful, and after a few breaths, I’ll stand up, stomp my feet on the platform, and wonder where the hell the train is.
Perhaps I’d be better off just calmly waiting, rather than trying to meditate. My attempt to use the time constructively – to make every moment a productive one – seems like a particularly American flaw. It’s an aggressive impatience. Instead of seeing waiting as one of life’s inevitabilities, I see it as wasted time.
And then there is waiting for Peter. We started seeing each other a few months ago, and though there is much to like about the man, he is chronically late – usually by minutes, sometimes by hours.
I, however, am always on time, by which I mean never more than five minutes late. This contrast in our temperaments leads to friction. Yet if there’s one thing that I’ve learned from past relationships, it’s that people fundamentally don’t change. I’m not naïve enough or optimistic enough to think that I can break Peter of his lateness habit. Maybe there’s even something admirable about his disregard for time. Maybe not.
So I’m trying to adjust. I’ve learned to have Peter meet me at my apartment so at least I’m at home, rather than standing on a street corner, as the clock ticks on and he hasn’t yet arrived. Lately, I’ve decided to meditate while I wait for him. I sit on my cushion and try to examine my eagerness to see him, as well as my annoyance at his lateness, and then hopefully drop all that and get down to following the breath.
Because of Peter’s lateness, I’m meditating more than usual and in slightly different ways. For one, I’m much better dressed. I usually meditate in a t-shirt and yoga pants. Since I’ve known Peter, I’ve meditated in lipstick, mascara, and sometimes a little black dress. I also don’t know how long I’ll be meditating. I don’t set a timer – instead the meditation ends when the doorbell rings and I bound up to answer it.
But this waiting meditation makes me question my intentions. I’m clearly not meditating for the benefit of all beings. Rather, I’m mediating so that I won’t be bitchy when my boyfriend arrives. It’s a defensive meditation, perhaps trying to make the most out of a trying situation, but it’s completely dependent on someone else’s schedule, or lack thereof.
What I’m really striving for is compassion for who he is – and also for who I am. I want to be accommodating, but not too accommodating. Peter has been making an effort to be on time. I’m making an effort to be less impatient. Is it possible to create a loving relationship out of our two, often at odds, identities?
We’ll have to wait and see.
Martha Henry lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she prefers to walk, rather than sit in traffic. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Photo © Martha Henry]
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