Standing in line and Mindfulness

“He said that life boils down to standing in line to get shit dropped on your head. Everyone’s got a place in the queue, you can’t get out of it, and just when you start to congratulate yourself on surviving your dose of shit, you discover that the line is actually circular.” ― Scott Lynch, The Republic of Thieves


Queueing or standing in line. We all do this. Whether it is at the supermarket, with the option for you to queue and be served by a checkout assistant or to serve yourself at the self checkout point. At  the retail shop, where you are going to buy that “fantastic and must have” new item of clothing.  At the petrol station, where you have to queue to fill your car up with fuel and then have to queue again to be able to pay. In a traffic jam, where people continually lane jump in the vain hope that they will “beat the queue”. Or even at a restaurant, where you queue to be seated, you queue to be served and finally, you queue to even pay for the service that you have queued for. And it was this last example that fired my need to write this article.

I came across the following statistic: Britons will spend almost six months of their life queuing, according to research published in 2009. The average adult wastes a five hours and 35 minutes queuing each month, with standing in line at the supermarket taking up the biggest amount of time.

A number of coincidences occurred to me at the same time that made me think and reflect about how I deal with queueing, or standing in line, waiting my turn.

Queue time distortion:

There was a BBC radio item on why people perceive that the queue they standing in moves more slowly than the one nearest to them. According to a new book, “Why Does the Other Line Always Move Faster?”, we experience time differently when engaged in a task, as opposed to waiting. So, when shoppers pick the a line to stand in, they fail to notice the fastest line because they are busy thinking about packing bags and paying for their goods. But while waiting to be served, they spot the other lines moving faster.

Author David Andrews said: “Our minds are rigged against us. Regardless of time actually spent, the ‘slowest’ line will always be the one we are standing in.” He added, that probability also plays a part; if there are three queues, there is a two-in-three chance that the others will move faster than yours. One way to cut queuing time is to pick the line with the most men, according to experts at the University of Surrey. They found men were more impatient than women and more likely to give up on a queue if it was too slow. Other tips include picking a line on the left, because most people are right-handed and will naturally veer to the right. This is an advantage for me, as I am left-handed. I also tend to keep in the left-hand lane when driving down the motorway which tends to move more quickly.

Secondly, Queue Mindfulness:

This video from Sharon Salzberg arrived in my inbox via the Wildmind website free news feed. It describes a simple practice of bringing mindfulness and kindness into the act of queueing, as we say in the UK.

This is something I do a lot. I have found that standing in a queue and practicing a short breathing exercise really helps me to keep grounded and calm. I also find that practicing mindfulness when I am in a traffic queue really helps. Too often I see people literally explode when waiting in a queue. Shouting and gesticulating their frustration. Sharon goes one step further and suggests a forgiveness exercise. I will give this a try as well.

Video: Standing In Line STREET LOVING KINDNESS with Sharon Salzberg

Wildmind website for you to subscribe to their daily Mindfulness news items:
Oh, and as for the picture of the cows. Well, they too wait to be milked in the morning and evening. Plus imagine yourself in that queue! I leave you with the following quote:
“An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one.” ― George Mikes

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