The other day I waited for the postie. I was expecting a parcel and it’s difficult to hear the door bell if I’m upstairs in my office. I really didn’t want to miss him which was why I was standing in the doorway watching the cold rain sluice down.
He was late. I was cold. The rain got heavier.
I suddenly became aware of how impatient I felt. A clenching in my stomach, a furrowing of my brow and a rising tide of irritation. All I wanted to do was get the darn parcel and get back to my desk.
Luckily I caught myself.
Since when had I become so impatient? How had I allowed myself to have such an extreme reaction to a really very minor interruption?
These days waiting for anything is seen as undesirable, a negative experience. We have self-service checkouts so we can beat the queues, Prime delivery so our online shopping arrives the next day and even an app to order drinks in a pub without the need to wait at the bar.
Eliminating downtime means we can squeeze yet more into our crowded lives. And yet of course it’s an illusion. Waiting, idling, daydreaming, doing nothing are buffers during which you can recover and replenish. Without such recovery you become overstretched, fatigued, less productive.
You push each day only to collapse at the end of the week. You want to lose yourself in deep sleep but your mind is so used to being busy that it won’t easily switch off. Precious weekends are spent trying to recover in time for Monday.
It goes against nature to be always “on”. Humans, just like other inhabitants of the natural world, are designed to cycle between periods of intense activity and rest. Plants and animals (ourselves included) survive and thrive when they are in balance.
So the next time you find yourself in a queue, stuck in traffic or waiting for an appointment, check your frustration. Look around you. Take a few breaths. This “waste of time” can be transformed into a oasis of restorative calm in your busy day.