The Meditation Practice for People Too Busy to Meditate

The Meditation Practice for People Too Busy to Meditate November 17, 2023

waiting meditation
Kevin Rajaram vis Unsplash

If you’re the kind of person who says they don’t have time to meditate, this meditation may be for you—because it doesn’t take time out of your day, it’s something you do during your day. It’s called the “waiting meditation” and I learned about if from Zen teacher Jan Chozen Bays in the Everyday Mindfulness section of the Waking Up app.

Personally, I find the best time to meditate is in the morning, ideally at sunrise. But some mornings, when you wake up late, or need to tend to family responsibilities, or would rather just read a book, meditation doesn’t work. That’s the beauty of the waiting meditation: You can find opportunities to practice it throughout even the busiest of days. Bays explains the practice this way:

Anytime you find yourself waiting, whether you’re in line at the store, waiting for someone who’s late, or waiting for the spinning icon on your computer screen to go away, take this as an opportunity to practice a form of mindfulness, meditation or prayer.

Think about it: The next time you’re stuck in a traffic jam, or in a long checkout line at the supermarket, or waiting in a doctor’s office, you’re presented with the chance to get a quick meditation or prayer session in. And you might have this opportunity several times a day.

A barrier to waiting meditation: our natural tendency to distract ourselves.

Bays points out that when it comes to waiting, we seem to have trouble staying in the moment and begin looking for distractions. In her words, “We might turn on the TV or radio, text someone on the phone, or mindlessly scroll through our favorite social media channel, or just sit and fume.” The trick is to break this habit—by changing the way we view waiting.

While waiting “usually provokes negative emotions,” Bays also tells us it “can be transformed into a gift—the gift of free time to practice.” So, the next time you’re waiting in line, or stuck in traffic, you need to avoid the knee-jerk reaction of picking up your phone and instead try practicing mindfulness. Bay believes that:

Even a few extra minutes of practice woven into the day, can have great benefits. Each time we can stop and not allow a negative mindset—like getting angry at the traffic or irritated at the slow cashier—the negative feeling will dissolve and often be replace by a form of happiness.

By carving out moments in the day to become more present and mindful, we can enjoy some of the chillaxing benefits of meditation with minimal effort. It turns waiting into, in Bays words, “unexpected extra time to practice being present.” This allows us to “bring the thread of the awareness up from where it lies hidden in the complex fabric of our lives.”

Here are 2 simple waiting meditation practices.

For starters, if you find yourself waiting, remind yourself: It’s okay. You now have some free time to center yourself and become fully present. Bays provides us with a couple of practice ideas that I’m going to paraphrase and expand on.

Practice #1: Focus on your breath.

Turn your attention to the area of your body where you’re most aware of your breathing, whether it’s the nostrils, chest or belly. (For me, it’s the chest.) Then, taking slow, measured breaths, focus on the air as it enters your body … and leaves your body. Each time you breathe out, imagine releasing any tension you’re holding, around the eyes, mouth, shoulders, or stomach.

Practice #2. Listen to the sounds around you.

Move your awareness from your eyes and your head to your ears. Bays tells us to “open and expand your hearing to take in the whole room.” At the website, Bob Stahl explains the sound practice this way:

Any sound can be the object of our focus in mindfulness practice. Even the most annoying sounds, like a horn blaring outside, an alarm clock beeping, or people yelling, can be perceived differently when we bring mindfulness to them. The annoyance of those sounds doesn’t come from the sounds themselves; it comes from our interpretation of those sounds as “bad.” When we bring mindfulness to it, we shift our relationship from aversion to curiosity, allowing the sounds to rise and fall, lessening their negative impact.

What sounds are you hearing that you might otherwise overlook? You might hear birds chirping in the distance. Cars and trucks rolling by on a nearby highway. Or the whir of the heater or air conditioner blowing through the home, car or building you’re now sitting in. Listen without analyzing. Recognize the sound and then release it.

A final thought on meditation for those who are too busy.

The following ideas come from my friend Becca Chopra, an author and yogini from Hawaii. You might call these “instant meditations” as they only take a few seconds to implement. By following these simple ideas, you can bring a little more mindfulness to your day.

  • If you can’t meditate, pause before every sip of coffee.
  • If you can’t pray, simply say “thank you” before every meal.
  • If you can’t manifest, enjoy what’s already yours.

Browse Our Archives