A little while ago I found myself taking a city bus to the Canada Day celebrations here in Calgary. And what a wonderfully fun day of celebration it was. But as my little family and I waited for the bus to go home that evening, there was a bit of a delay and I found myself getting frustrated and admittedly even a little cranky at having to wait. We had walked many miles during the day, and damn it, I wanted to get home, relax a little, and watch a little mindless TV.
We were sitting in a bus shelter and a light, warm, summer rain was starting to gently fall — I started to realise that feeling upset or angry about the slow bus wasn’t really productive, positive or really much fun. Instead of getting crotchetier, I made a quick decision, I decided to take a few deep cleansing breaths and chose to just be present in the moment and just immerse myself in the bus waiting experience.
Once I simply CHOSE to connect to my current surroundings in a non-judgemental way and just be in that moment, a funny thing happened…
I started to mindfully notice and appreciate all the small wonderful details I was missing when I was cranky. The warm rain was falling and leaving beautiful abstract patterns on the glass and the rain smelled so wonderfully fresh and clean. Outside of the bus shelter, a couple of teenage sweethearts giggled, laughed and held hands as they ran in out of the rain. The rain gently pattered onto the wet concrete and the car tires made wonderful swooshing sounds as they drove by. Thunder rumbled gently in the background and I let my mind wander back to the innocence and wonder of my childhood memories of storms and my grandparents warm and loving house. In just a few minutes of acceptance and immersion in the moment, I noticed I wasn’t really feeling crotchety anymore. In fact, I was feeling calm contented and even relaxed!
Looking back, making the choice to accept the circumstance I was in; immerse myself in that moment and step away from feeling frustrated was a really good one that day for me. Through acceptance and making that positive choice to just be in that moment, I shifted from feeling frustrated to feeling quite relaxed and contented. It was really about acceptance and choice. Once I accepted that the bus arrives when it arrives, not necessarily when I think it should arrive, I started on the path away from my negative emotions. By choosing to immerse myself in the moment and actually making an effort to truly see and appreciate my surroundings I became one with the situation and just lived in that moment as it was, rather than expecting it to be perfect. The acceptance allowed me to enjoy the beauty of that experience
Zen Buddhist Monk Tich Nhat Hahn talks about a similar experience about the mundane chore of doing the dishes:
Thirty years ago, when I was still a novice at Tu Hieu Pagoda, washing the dishes was hardly a pleasant task. During the Season of Retreat when all the monks returned to the monastery, two novices had to do all the cooking and wash the dishes for sometimes well over one hundred monks.
There was no soap. We had only ashes, rice husks, and coconut husks, and that was all. Cleaning such a high stack of bowls was a chore, especially during the winter when the water was freezing cold. Then you had to heat up a big pot of water before you could do any scrubbing.
Nowadays one stands in a kitchen equipped with liquid soap, special scrubpads, and even running hot water which makes it all the more agreeable. It is easier to enjoy washing the dishes now. Anyone can wash them in a hurry, then sit down and enjoy a cup of tea afterwards. I can see a machine for washing clothes, although I wash my own things out by hand, but a dishwashing machine is going just a little too far!
While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes.
At first glance, that might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.
. . . There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes. . . .
If while washing the dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes.
In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future – and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.
Being mindfully aware can be applied to any of life’s routines, waiting for the bus, washing the dishes, driving to work, or even waiting in a line up at the DMV. (Although even Buddha himself probably would struggle to be mindful and present at the DMV).
So how do you be more present and aware when you’re in what feels like a frustrating place or situation?
Here are some tips to help you wait for the bus or wash the dishes:
Recognise your own impatience or frustration.
The first step to stepping away from negative emotions to a more content and a mindfully calm place is to realise that they are happening and that they are affecting us. How often do we find ourselves frowning or scowling and feeling negative and then suddenly realise what a waste it really is to feel that way? Once we realise we’re feeling impatience or anger or frustration we can understand ourselves better and then start to do what it takes to change those negative emotions to more positive or even neutral ones.
Mindfully make the choice!
The real power we have over any environment is in making the choice to be present, aware and immersed in the experience. We can’t choose our feelings and emotions — but if they are negative we can choose how long we hang on to them — we can choose to not ruminate on them making them bigger than they are.
What can you control?
In waiting for the bus, you absolutely cannot control when the bus gets there, but you can control how you choose to perceive the situation and use that time. Use that time to do some deep breathing or other meditation exercises like noticing all of the sensory input you’re receiving — open yourself to the experience, what can you see around you, smell, hear, feel?
Be curious and look for wonder!
Use the waiting time to look around you and be curious about your world. Look at things with fresh eyes. Look for the wonder around you, the beautiful sunny sky, an interesting looking or acting person, a cute giggling toddler, an elderly couple holding hands, a bright and colourful ad or billboard, pretty flowers or a big beautiful tree, maybe the diversity of all of the interesting and colourful people around you. Don’t judge things just explore them and accept them as they are.
Acceptance is key.
Again, the bus comes when it comes. Being frustrated will just make it seem like it takes even longer! Take those deep cleansing breaths and just accept that’s really just the nature of buses!
Use the time while you’re waiting to mindfully make a gratitude list. What are you grateful for? Your family, your job, your shiny new shoes, your recent achievements, your friends, that the bus will be half empty, that the sun is shining, that it’s Friday, that your family’s health is good, that you have a vacation coming up? Gratitude can really help us gain perspective and pull ourselves out of the rabbit hole of negative emotions.
Making the choice to be mindfully aware of the moment you’re in without allowing negative thoughts to interfere can be a wonderful way to lessen the daily stress in our lives — being present can lead to living a more relaxed and harmonious existence.
So the next time the bus is late, just slow down, appreciate the moment and be more curious about the world around you.
If you’re interested in exploring these ideas a little more: Here’s a link to another great blog about learning how to appreciate each moment! http://on-being-real.com/on-being-real/getting-quiet
A Lifetime of Peace: Essential Writings by and about Thich Nhat Hanh —By Nhất Hạnh (Thích.) Da Capo Press; 1 edition (Sept. 25 2003)