Waiting: it’s a hobby


The seminar would be late starting, because of a technological hitch.  The famous choreographer said, “I’m good at waiting. It’s my hobby.”

This startling statement has stayed with me longer than any of his brilliant insights into dance. I decided to adopt this hobby myself. Since then every slow queue, every delayed airline, every lonesome minute in a cafe or a dentist’s lobby is an event in itself for me. I’ve got to wait anyway: why fret about something I cannot change? Waiting is not a void: it’s an event.

A friend said, “What I don’t like about waiting is the fact that nothing is happening.” But something is happening: you are waiting.

A glimpse of angry waiting

I went to Warehouse Stationery for a small urgent printing job. One machine was out of action and a staff member away sick, so there was going to be a delay. OK, can’t change that. In bustled an upset person with angry hair.

P. from K. “I’m a proofreader and I’ve just come in from Karori” (a 15 minute bus ride) “and my job will only take two minutes so can you do it straight away?”
Staff. “I’m sorry / delay / 15 minutes / machine / away / queue.”
P. from K. Repeats her speech.
Staff “Many people are waiting, that lady” (me) has been waiting a long time.” (Actually only 5 minutes so far.)
P. from K. (To me) “I’m a proofreader from Karori, etc, will you let them do my job first?”
Me. “No, that will throw everybody out.”

P. from K. then rushed off town to find another printer willing to do her job instantly. Which would have certainly taken longer than 15 minutes.

Waiting under a tree

I understood her position. I felt sorry for her. And life had handed me the gift of ten minutes to ponder on the mysteries of waiting. I sat on a bench and watched clouds racing each other across the sky. Was I witnessing celestial road rage?

  • Does angry waiting sprout from that deadly seed, a sense of entitlement? This is always puzzling to an outsider: why should a proofreader from Karori take precedence over a writer from Mt Victoria? A Hummer over a VW Golf? Storm cloud over fluffy white cloud?
  • Does angry waiting hurry things up or slow them down?

Some waits are harder than others. Waiting for test results. Waiting for news of a life-and-death nature. Waiting for news that will determine your future. You feel frightened, powerless and frustrated.

But when these life-or-death waits occur I try to at least remember that waiting can be a positive thing. To perceive waiting not as a vacuum but a state that I experience for better or for worse. To wait mindfully. Perhaps to fill my mental waiting room with small good things and thoughts and helps and hopes. I can’t change the outcome, but at least I can avoid contaminating others with the toxin of my angry waiting.

Let me remember the tree and let the clouds do what they will.

9 thoughts on “Waiting: it’s a hobby

  1. aiyshah2014 says:

    Waiting is something I don’t think much about these days. So your article made me think…why is that? Because your story was so familiar. Certainly when it comes to travelling, waiting is a given, so I’m always prepared with my laptop (to write yet another post!), but waiting when there is a real injustice going on (e.g. someone else getting preferential treatment while you have to stand back for a while) is the real killer, that’s when you have to fight for what is duly your right, play your hand out to the bitter end, and try to digest the human dilemma (or corrupted human condition) in it all. But with those times when I do have to wait for legitimate reasons, I try to fill them with lateral thinking rather than linear thinking. If we are thinking in a linear way all we want is progress and forward movement (i.e. get served!), but lateral thinking opens the moments up to all directions. Once we can do that we realise that a few moments may only technically be a short time time-wise, but infinite laterally. I’d say take the opportunity to decide early on in the waiting process, if this is a fight-able battle against injustice and incompetency, or a valuable free moment in your busy day to sit back relax and let your lateral mind take you to a whole other dimension that you may never have considered before. You never know, something good may come from this.

    1. That’s excellent advice: to decide early whether to fight or wait, and then think laterally — almost literally laterally! And something good does often come from waiting.

  2. cedar51 says:

    This is very much like “not in a hurry” – today, I wanted to take the bus home (Onehunga to New Lynn); there are 2 routes (008 & 009) both end up at the bus station but get there differently. The last few times I’ve got the 008 but this time, I chose to let that one leave and get the 009.

    A nice young lass sat down next to me, and was shocked to find that I hadn’t jumped on the first bus – when she discovered I was going right through. She couldn’t understand that I didn’t mind waiting…

    I said “I’m not in a hurry, and fancied to go on a different route”

    I then proceeded to find out a great deal about her employment, where she was from as she spoke to someone (ph) in a foreign language, she was from India and came here about 20 years ago, when she was 2. Some other people were hovering, elderly Indians in colourful saris – that led me to ask her if she ever wore the dress – apparently not many young people are interested, it for old people and grandmothers.

    It turned out these women had been to a celebration for the start of Diwali and their saris were certainly not everyday ones – ornate and sparkling fabrics. The men all in suits.

    And this all occurred, because I wasn’t in a “hurry” and could sit in semi sun, chat with the lass “wait” for my desired bus…

    1. What a beautiful story. Such a simple change brought such an interesting reward. This anecdote reverberates in my mind.

  3. M. L. Kappa says:

    Good post, Rachel It’s made me think. My habit is to camouflage waiting with a book… which is good, since I love reading and don’t get enough of it anyway. Or writing, or even sketching. I’m usually prepared, for waiting rooms, delayed flights etc. And it’s a privilege to have that bit of extra time when you cannot possibly be getting on with chores. But sometimes the unexpected happens…

    1. Perfect. This is one reason I love ebooks: if you’ve got a phone in your pocket, you’ve got a book in your pocket. Yes, waiting time can be a bonus not a chore.

  4. Love this perspective on waiting. Thanks.

  5. Gail Rehbein says:

    A very enjoyable post Rachel. Some years ago, my yoga teacher suggested that waiting in a queue is a good opportunity to hone standing poses. Obviously not triangle poses – or though feel free to break out into one 🙂 – but the subtlety of Tadasana (the mountain pose) that calls for standing tall, strong legs, open chest. I’ve done it ever since. So now I find waiting in queues quite enjoyable and they’re over before I know it. 🙂

    1. That’s a marvellous tactic. Turns everything around. I will look out for yoga poses in every queue from now on. Beautiful.

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