Waiting is often viewed as a negative state. The phrase “I had to wait forever” is a great example of the (sometimes dramatic) exasperation that comes with waiting. During the season of Advent, however, we are called to flip this negative idea of waiting on its head. Waiting is not a punishment; waiting is an act of preparation, readying ourselves for an event that is well worth the wait: the coming of Christ. In that sense, we engage in an “active waiting,” a learning experience, which can teach us deep spiritual lessons.
Every day throughout the year, we experience mini-Advents. These moments are like warm-ups to the season of Advent. They help us to practice the mindset of Advent and the positive spin on waiting. Here are three examples of times we are called to wait with the spirit of Advent:
Waiting in transit. If you take public transit regularly, you’ll be familiar with this situation: one bus flies by, full of people, without letting anyone on at your stop. Thirty minutes later, another bus comes by, and does the same thing. It’s a new take on the idea of a clown car, but you’re not one of the clowns today. This situation, and ones like it — waiting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, or looking up at the airport departure board to see your flight is delayed another 30 minutes (and then another, and then another) — really test my patience. Recently, I’ve tried reading a book — a Buddhist book, in fact, by Pema Chodron. Maybe it’s the act of reading, or maybe it’s the Buddhist teachings, but reading while commuting not only helps me to be patient but also enriches my life. They say a watched pot never boils; well, watching down the road for a bus to come doesn’t seem to make the bus come any sooner, either. So, when you’re in transit this month, try reading, or listening to an audiobook if you’re behind the wheel.
Waiting in line. In the United States, when it comes to lines, we both uphold their value and dread them. The principle behind them is good, but no one likes a line when they’re in it. Lines have become more and more common as technology has advanced, too: waiting in line on the phone with customer service or waiting in a queue online to buy concert tickets. Most lines we wait in are relatively short, hopefully, so it’s a good time to do a short exercise. Each time you’re waiting in line, try focusing on your breathing. A buildup of stress can affect our cardiac and immune system, as well as our mental health, and focused breathing can help relieve that. Deep breathing for 10 to 20 minutes each day might seem like a lofty goal, but in reality we’re probably in some form of a line — physical or virtual — for that amount of time daily. Make it a goal for December and in the New Year: When I find myself in a line, I practice deep breathing.
Waiting on words. Maybe you’re at your office Christmas party and your supervisor is giving a lengthy, though not quite riveting, speech. Or you’re at a class lecture that isn’t relevant or interesting. Or maybe you’re in a training that is out of touch with the needs of your workplace. From time to time, we find ourselves listening to words that aren’t quite useful, insightful or interesting. Our mind starts to wander. We’re there but not really there. These situations are good opportunities to exercise presence. We are bombarded with so much language on a daily basis (articles on the internet, hundreds of emails, the news, songs on iTunes), we have to create quick mental filters for what we’re presented with to either engage it or dump it. We have all sorts of filters for times we’re presented with words: useful/not useful; interesting/dull; address now/put off till later. Our minds become like fast-paced inbox sorting machines. If you find your mind wandering off, ask yourself: Is one of my filters being triggered? Try to re-engage and practice presence. Or try to find God in that moment: maybe the work training you’re in isn’t very relevant to your position, but this is a great opportunity to bond with your coworkers. You might find value in what is being said if you don’t hastily press delete or disengage.