Friday, September 3, 2010

Grueling Waits...and How To Survive Them

This past week, I had two days from absolute Hell. It seemed like some evil force was bound and determined to push me to my snapping point with several long and grueling waits. The first was taking my mom (who has dementia) to her eye appointment and waiting three hours to finally see the doctor. Any other wait would've been hard enough, but this wait was riddled with the same questions--every three minutes--asking why she was there, what was wrong with her eyes, and how much longer would it be? The second wait was a horrible 45-minute backup on the interstate from a wreck involving a motorcycle...while en route to my own medical appointment that I've been waiting a month for, and couldn't bear to have to reschedule. And when I finally arrived (only 2 minutes late, thanks to leaving early), I had to wait three hours (yet again) before my doctor actually walked in.

As I sat through the longest and most grueling of these waits, I recalled a briefing from my former days as a civilian at our local Air Force Base. A guest speaker was training us in how to survive if we should ever be captured by an enemy force and held hostage for days or months. He explained how former captives would compose music in their heads, quietly sing their favorite songs, construct buildings step by step, from designing blueprints to man even wrote symbolic letters to everyone he loved, in case he was killed. But the most important thing to do--besides move your body and limbs around as much as possible to keep from atrophying--was to keep your mind occupied, which would keep you from going insane.

First of all, thinking of hostages held for days and months at a time puts a simple three-hour wait in perspective, doesn't it? But the information I was given certainly came in was basically an invitation to go on a full-on head trip. It's always when we need quiet moments of stillness and daydreams that we cannot have them--and when we finally get an opportunity to have them, we hate it and want to escape.

The only ruminating I seemed capable of, was seeing this waiting as a harsh mockery of my entire summer. I was waiting for job interviews, waiting to become employed again, waiting to see if the physical therapy I was doing for stressed tendons would heal them, waiting to be free of pain, waiting to have a place of my own again instead of living with a relative, waiting for an upcoming marathon I'll be running, and waiting to start the next chapter of my life.

Even when one has had profound experience with staying in the present moment and focusing awareness on the here and now....waiting can be difficult. Especially when engaged in a staring contest with so many faces of adversity.

[I did bring a book to read at the second medical appointment, but after two long chapters I needed a break]

First I tried using my imposed wait to do the sitting meditation I never make time for at the end of the day. Not the "ohm" kind you see in movies, but the honest-to-God (or perhaps honest-to-Buddha) sit still and empty your mind kind of Zen meditation---where you just focus on breath going in and out.

Next I tried making a list in my mind of everything I was grateful for. If thoughts arose that brought worry or uncertainty about the future--I tried turning them into thoughts about how I wanted my future to look. As long as I'm projecting out of the present, might as well make it good, right? I contemplated a permanent job with big, prosperous paychecks getting auto-deposited into my bank account. I thought of the harmonious workplace in which I'd be spending my time, and all the friendly coworkers there. I felt myself running the marathon with ease...with strong, healthy, pain-free muscles. I envisioned a future with a right arm tendon that was completely healed and feeling as normal as the left one...and even getting to do a few massages now and then. The list could go on and on...but I'm sure you've got the point.

We will all of us be forced into some grueling periods of waiting from time to time, in our lives. Although it feels unfair, unacceptable, and like it will just never least there is a choice we can make. We can choose to sit in frustration and huff and puff and stay in the toilet-bowl spiral of negative, energy-stealing thoughts....or we can choose to occupy that wonderful thing inside our heads called our mind. Our magnificent, complex, miraculous mind. By changing just a few thoughts, we suddenly look down and realize we're holding the escape key.

And if all this doesn't work, well, just let out the longest, loudest, most primal scream you can....and see how fast things start happening. ;-)