Courageous waiting

I think of myself as a very patient person, far more patient than many people I know. I attribute it to a childhood spent waiting for others. Throughout first and second grade, each afternoon, I trudged from the elementary school to the high school, sat on the bench outside the principal’s office, and waited for my sister’s school day to end. Our house was across the street from the elementary school but my mother didn’t want me to be home alone. When my siblings weren’t available to watch me, I spent many a school holiday sitting quietly reading or doing homework at the clinics where my mother worked. Years later, as a teacher, I was a champion at wait time—that time after a question is asked and before anyone puts a hand in the air to answer it. I could sit for minutes smiling encouragingly and never betray the slightest impatience.

That’s why I’m dissatisfied with my current state of mind. I’m waiting for people I don’t know to make a decision that could have a bit impact on my life. Regardless of the outcome, I just want the waiting to end. To paraphrase the Pointer Sisters, I’m so impatient and I just can’t hide it. I’m about to lose my mind and I just don’t like it.

When I reflect back on my experiences teaching, I know I truly was comfortable waiting because I trusted the students and believed that most of them were thinking about the topic at hand and formulating their contribution to the conversation. My trust and patience were almost always rewarded. I also trusted myself. I was confident that no matter how the students responded I had the ability to address them skillfully and appropriately.

In a recent meditation talk, Tara Brach discussed courageous presence. She encouraged her listeners to notice what’s happening and allow it. I’m trying to do this by paying attention to my discomfort and anxiety with this waiting time. She also notes the importance of connecting to our feelings of vulnerability with interest and kindness. I realize that, in contrast to how I felt when teaching, I am afraid that I won’t know how to respond to the uncertain future. I’m trying to accept that without judging myself. Finally, Brach advised responding from our wisdom and from our heart. When I do that I observe that I’ve been through many big changes before and I’ve always found my way. It hasn’t always been easy but I’m still here—waiting and trusting myself.