Whatever we may think about this moment, our practice is just to return to it. This moment is where all beings exist. Even though we have doubts and fears, even though we ask, ‘‘Why do I have to die?’’ no answer appears. Only this moment is Real. There’s no escaping this moment. All beings—including doubt and fear—drop off in this moment. (Katagiri, p. 9)
You Have to Say Something; Manifesting Zen Insight
I am very good at waiting. I have developed a full skill set in this art form. For me, waiting started when I was a baby. I am adopted, so I had to wait for a family. From the very beginning I learned to wait. Mind you, I don’t actually have any real memory of this, just stories told to me over and over, but I have constructed a Hollywood-worthy narrative of this.
I mention this waiting thing because it seems that I am doing a lot of waiting right now. I’m waiting for clothes to dry. I am waiting for goods to be delivered. I’m waiting for hip surgery. I’m waiting to catch a bus to the airport. I’m waiting for food to cook. I’m waiting for money to be deposited. I’m waiting for seasons to change. I’m waiting for my headache to go away. I’m waiting for test results. I’m waiting for daylight savings time to end. I’m waiting for my book to be published. I’m waiting to become famous. I’m waiting to fall in love again. I’m waiting to feel safe. I’m waiting for Trump to be impeached. I’m waiting for traffic to get moving again. I’m waiting for things to return to normal. I’m waiting to die.
Seems to me I am spending a LOT of time waiting. I have learned a thing or two about how I wait. There is my anxious waiting. This kind of waiting is in anticipation of something. I become short-tempered when deliveries are delayed. I become anxious when test results aren’t immediately available. I experience distress when I am needing to be somewhere at a specific time and I have to rely on someone else to get me to the appointment. These experiences of waiting are incredibly unsettling because I have little or no control over the actual delivery system and the people providing the service. All I can do is wait.
Of course there is happy anticipation, too. Waiting for the birth of a grandchild; waiting for a birthday or anniversary; waiting for a massage; waiting for a movie, concert, or play to start; waiting for food to come out of the oven. These experiences of waiting are stimulating even though I have to accept that I have no control over the delivery systems or people involved.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, I spent a lot of time waiting in Greyhound Bus Stations. I was dependent on this mode of transport because I didn’t own a car, couldn’t afford the train or air fare, and the bus routes actually served the smaller communities I needed to get to. Greyhound Bus terminals were places where I honed some of my skills in waiting. I learned how to observe without being intrusive. I learned how to feign sleep and still send out vibes of “Don’t Tread On Me”! (This because of being cautioned that bad people could be found in Greyhound Bus terminals.)
On one trip across country, I ran low on funds and had to panhandle in order to get change to make a phone call and have someone pick me up at the bus station. That was eye-opening!
In those days, Greyhound Bus Stations ranged from the brightly-lit and active 24-hours-a-day terminal in downtown Chicago to quiet, roadside gas stations where the ‘station-master’ was the store owner who not only sold tickets to passengers, but also loaded the bull-sperm that was being delivered from breeders to farmers.
Announcements in the larger terminals came over the PA systems with prerecorded voices identifying well-known and lesser-known stops. “Greyhound service to Milwaukee with stops in Kenosha, and Racine . . . ” fought for precedence over “Now arriving from St. Louis . . . ” or “Now departing for Cincinnati . . . ” The sounds of the air brakes and smells of idling diesel engines are still prominent in my memory banks.
It has been eons since I traveled on a Greyhound bus. Nowadays, I hone my waiting skills in airports. It is a different experience, although there are some similarities. Boarding strategies are still required and I have adapted mine to fit the ritualized queuing before getting on a plane. Exchanges of pleasantries seem fewer and offerings of kindness seem less frequent in airports when compared with my memories of these interactions in bus stations. In truth, this may be more reflective of who I am now than who I was then.
Instead of occupying my wait time with movie magazines and paperback novels, nowadays I distract myself with my Kindle or my cell phone. Occasionally I people-watch, but truth be told, I don’t find that many interesting characters to observe. Engaging a stranger in conversation seems very intrusive, especially since so many of them have their eyes glued to their screens. So my strategies for managing my waiting have changed, but not the waiting itself.
At this stage of my life, the things I am waiting for carry deeper meaning. Now I am systematically looking for inner quiet. I seek balance between my desires and my needs. Now I engage with thoughts of what will happen when I die and what I want to leave behind as my legacy.
Waiting is no longer something to be endured. It is an opportunity for me to explore where my “now” intersects with my “becoming” and with my “was”. These are subtle demarcations and I frequently find myself slipping out of “now” into “next” or “past”. That is why the quote that begins this blog spoke to me.
I use my Greyhound Bus Station waiting room metaphor with many of my patients when we discuss waiting, especially if that waiting involves contemplation of death. We seem to share similar memories of spending time in such places. It personalizes the experience and somehow takes some of the unknown out of the equation. All that will happen is that we will board the bus. The friendly driver will take our baggage and store it under the carriage, take our ticket, and then close the door with that hydraulic ‘whoosh.’ The air brakes will be released, the gears engaged and we will leave the station for the final time.