The Zen of Long Lines

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Have you ever been really keyed up, in a huge hurry -- to see a movie, get on a plane, buy a Nintendo Wii -- only to find, after you round that last corner, that you're suddenly standing at the back of a huge, snaking line? To stop yourself from screaming or committing ritual Seppuku right there takes an enormous and immediate readjustment of your frame of mind -- you have to get into what I like to call Long Line Zen Mind. After all, I'm the kind of guy who refuses to be stuck in traffic on the freeway; once I crest the hill and see brakelights stretching out in front of me, I dive off the highway at the nearest exit -- even if I'm in the middle of the desert -- convinced that any misadventure I happen upon while forging my own path is preferable to being stuck in the mindless herd.

"In our everyday life our thinking is ninety-nine percent self-centered. "Why do I have suffering? Why do I have trouble?" ["Why do I have to wait in this ^%$#ing line?"] In [Long Line Zen Mind], your mind and body have great power to accept [lines] as they are, whether agreeable or disagreeable." *

To help us prepare, we meditate on lines longer than any we dare to dream we'll be ensnared in. Here are some of our favorites. Before we get started, though, what's the longest line you've ever waited in?

The Heathrow Airport Customs Screening Line, February, 2007

Line to Get Groceries in Russia, 1991
According to the folks at EnglishRussia, "Just fifteen years ago you couldn't just walk in the shop and buy what you need. Instead, you had to stand the longest line you've ever seen and as a regard you could buy not more than some limited amount of a limited choice food or other products. That was Russia in the beginning of the 90s - right after the collapse of USSR, when old Communistic supply system was already ruined but new, capitalistic, hasn't been built yet."

Turns out Russians were standing in long lines just during the 1917 transition into Communism, as well. Here's a sight: thousands of Russian citizens (all cheerily clad in black) waiting in line to buy bread, being watched over by trigger-happy Imperial Police.21bread.jpg

"Because we enjoy all aspects of life as an unfolding of big [lines], we do not care for any excessive joy. So we have imperturbable composure [in excessively long lines]."

Line to Buy Gas in Iraq
This line is more than three miles long. People literally spend all day getting gas in some parts of Iraq (in 117-degree heat), which must require an absolutely heroic amount of patience.

(Here's a better video of people waiting for gas in Iraq, but embedding was disabled so I couldn't post it.)

"Our life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact, we have no fear of [long lines] anymore, nor actual difficulty in our life."

Line to Get into Japan's First Apple Store, 2003

"When you [wait in a long line], if you fix your mind on the activity with some confidence, the quality of your state of mind is the activity itself. When you are concentrated on the quality of your being, you are prepared for [at least a four-hour wait]."

Line to Get into the Vatican Museum on a Saturday Morning
I like art, too. But not this much:

"For Zen students a [long line] is a treasure."

* Adapted (with slight alterations) from Zen Mind Beginner's Mind

January 25, 2008 - 6:10am
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