Stoics are very patient, you know.

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When I was younger, I was considerably more anxious. I lay awake at night ruminating about the bills. A bad day at the office sometimes culminated in a panic attack. Things had to be done just so, with perfect everything, or I wouldn’t be satisfied.

Worst of all, the idea of waiting drove me insane. I imposed essentially meaningless deadlines on things that didn’t even need deadlines, and then got frustrated and even more anxious if things didn’t work out. I have a childhood memory from a Girl Guides event where I actually started crying when my ride home was late. When a kindly group leader asked why was I was crying, the answer was a revelation:

“I’m bored.”

Yes, eleven-year-old me was literally bored to tears.

In the last 5-10 years, though, I’ve managed to get a handle on my problems with anxiety and boredom. After hearing a CBC Radio documentary on Stoicism, I decided to focus on one key principle: Focus on the things that you can control, rather than being disturbed by things that are out of your control.

This is particularly true when travelling. Two years ago I went on a trip to see the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. Getting to and from the viewing site involved three airports and a couple of train stations. Lots of sitting, lots of waiting. Knowing that I was in for a long train ride, I made sure to bring along a notebook computer with wi-fi so that I could do some writing and stay in touch with family (I’m a total Luddite when it comes to cell phones, and still can’t justify getting one).

All that sitting and waiting, probably an entire day’s worth over the course of the trip, broke something in me. Fortunately, it was something that needed to be broken — my sense of false urgency and indignation when things didn’t happen Right Now, Damn It. I don’t even have to be actively engaged in doing something; sometimes it’s enough to gaze out through a rain-spattered window and listen to the rhythmic click of train wheels on the track. I can’t make the train go any faster, so the only thing to do is let go of it and let it happen on its own.

I would hesitate to call this meditation, because it lacks structure and method. It does have a bit of a mindfulness flavour to it, though. While patiently waiting, anything I do has an immediacy to it because I’ve mentally detached from the uncontrollable outside circumstances. It’s just me and the notebook computer, me and the book I’m reading, me and the passenger I’m chatting to.

No matter what you’re waiting for, patient waiting is much more pleasant than the other kind.

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