TRUE OPINION: Patience really is a virtue, ponders novelist Miles Hunt.
I was at the local Café this morning, waiting for my extra strong flat white, sunning myself like a lizard against a well-position wall, watching others around me glued to their phones. Missing the blue sky and the sun, as they were locked into their digitals worlds. I’d forgotten mine – luckily, or I’d have been locked in too – but it got me thinking: Have we lost the art of waiting?
It’s funny, because in life everyone is basically waiting, all the time – waiting for the weekend to arrive or the kids to go to bed, waiting for lunch or the work day to end, waiting for the next big party, or a coming holiday – just one long, enormous wait, until all the waiting ends.
But in the in-between times it is the opposite. As soon as we have to actually wait for something specific, something small, we are straight onto the phones – checking through the latest messages on the WhatsApp, or scrolling through the latest live non-stop news, in a perpetual daze from the information overload, desperately seeking the next hit like an addict strung out on digital reload.
I remember now, almost fondly, those hours spent waiting for a bus or a train in my younger backpacking days. The time could be whiled away in the sights and smells of the place, checking out some local market stall across the street, smoking a cheap cigarette, reading the book you’d recently traded or just playing with the dirt between the knees. ‘Sitting and thinking, but mainly sitting,’ as my veterinary father used to say about our pet dogs, when they lay sunning themselves in the backyard, totally oblivious to time.
There is beauty in that – not least because dogs are usually such nice loving creatures – but also because the wait made the thing you were waiting for more necessary, more exciting when it eventually came. Now, if you wait for a coffee and then hit the phone, the phone becomes the objective not the coffee. And then boom the coffees there and the wait has gone, and whatever it is that was so necessary to read has gone too. Do we really need a reminder of what is happening in the world every 20 seconds? Do we need to check on what our friends are saying to each other every time a message comes through, every time we are reminded of its existence with a beep or a flash or just the knowledge that an exciting gift may await us with the touch of a finger?
Even waiting for a friend has gone out the window. There was a time, before mobile phones, when friends made a time to meet, and that was the place. And someone was always there early and someone was always late – which usually meant a little wait – but then seeing that friend was made all the better once they finally arrived. Now, the text comes in, and the time is moved, the place as well: don’t wait, I’ll meet you here instead; I’m running late, lets make it 7; etc.
Maybe we should all just enjoy waiting again. There is a simple beauty in it. Mindfulness is all about being in the moment and connecting to the senses – in a way, this is similar to waiting. Because when we wait, we are forced to observe, to see, and hear and smell the surrounds. And when waiting, one can hear their thoughts, allowing issues to digest in the brain, to mull over an idea, solve a problem, or create something new from thin air. That’s where many of my best ideas for books or articles come from – while sitting and thinking, mainly sitting.