“It can wait.” A mantra for the 21st century

Buddha meditating lying on one side

You’re in the middle of a conversation with a friend, and your phone rings. You stop mid-sentence and suddenly you’re caught up in a phone call. You don’t even think about whether or not to pick up the call. It just happens.

You’re in the car and you hear the ping of a text message arriving. What do you do? Many people succumb to temptation and read the message and — worse — reply to it. (You can recognize those people; they’re the ones in front of you, swerving out of their lane without even realizing it.) Even if you try to ignore the incoming message, you can feel its emotional pull, as if your phone is an emotional black hole, drawing your attention inexorably toward it.

These distractions are hard to resist. How can we reclaim our attention in this world of email alerts, text message alerts, phone calls, IM alerts, and Facebook notifications?

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I’ve found one simple way of regaining control of my attention. It’s a simple phrase: “It can wait.” I didn’t make this phrase up. I borrowed it from a public service advertisement designed to combat distracted driving. I found it simple and powerful.

And I use it in my daily activities. When I feel the urge to look at my phone while I’m driving, even if it’s just to remind myself of the name of the song that’s playing, I say “It can wait.” This simple phrase makes it easy for me to keep my attention where it belongs — on driving safely.

“It can wait” is a reminder of what’s important. The text message, email, or phone call will still be there when I arrive at my destination. I can deal with it then. Right now what’s important is getting to my destination safely. (In theory the song is still there, but in practice I’ll forget to do the detective work necessary to figure out what the track was. Which just goes to show how important it was in the first place to have that information!)

“It can wait” is a tool I also use in my meditation practice.

Sometimes when I’m meditating I find myself getting caught up in some train of thought. Sometimes those thoughts are compulsive. Right now I’ve just moved into a new office and we’re making some changes at work, so I find myself planning how we’re going to use the space, how we can set up better organizational systems etc. It’s all creative stuff. But it’s not what I want to be doing in my meditation practice. So I say, “It can wait.” And again, I find it relatively easy to let go of the train of thought. Sometimes it’ll come back a few times, but I keep saying “It can wait” and the planning part of my mind eventually gets the message.

“It can wait” becomes a powerful statement of affirmation in the importance of the present moment. I find myself planning? “It can wait.” Right now I’m just going to be with my present moment experience. I’ll find happiness by surrendering to the present moment, not by arranging the future in my mind.

So I offer this to you as a practice that I’ve found to be simply and effective. When you need to be focused on the present moment and an emotional black hole appears and tries to steal your attention, just say “It can wait” and embrace the present moment in mindful awareness.

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9 Comments. Leave new

  • So beautiful and simple yet powerful. I will start applying it. Though I know I cant wait to see your writings :)

    Regards,
    Palani

    Reply
  • Di Gallacher
    March 2, 2012 3:08 pm

    thanks for this. i suffer acute anxiety with my mind always trying to race into the future. obviously this affects my meditation practice and this will help there but i will also try this when i feel overloaded with different anxieties in my daily life.

    thank you bodhipaksa

    Reply
  • Prasgant Gedam-Nagpur-India
    March 3, 2012 5:59 am

    thank you bodhipaksa,I will start applying it.

    Reply
  • Great! I suppose most things can wait, when you think about it.

    Reply
  • Carroll Edward Young
    April 7, 2012 8:59 am

    Even us retired folks can use this really helpful advice. Thanks!
    Carroll

    Reply
  • So simple yet profoundly true! One for me to add to my practice. I work with young children, so often I’m tempted to only half listen to things that they urgently want to tell me because it’s important for them. My mind meanwhile is firmly on things I should, be could, be need to be doing. Now I’ll take a breath and say it can wait to myself and take the time to listen mindfully.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Jo. I think applying this to our relationship with children is very important. So often we get caught up in something like reading and article, and we create a battle between paying attention to the article and paying attention to the children. And, most times at least, the article can easily wait. Most times, for me, it wouldn’t make any significant difference to my life is I didn’t read it!

      I also just realized that one of my jobs as a parent is to teach my children the self-control so that they too can do the same practice. It takes time and training for them to realize that they need to manage their impulses (for example when they want to talk to someone but that person’s in the middle of a conversation). It’s a case of helping them to have a sense of priorities that extends beyond immediate gratification, I think.

      Reply
  • […] thing that I find very effective is saying “It can wait.” This is what I’ve called “The Mantra for the 21st Century.” This […]

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  • […] used the phrase “But right now … right now.” I’ve also used “It can wait.” I’ve found them both to be very […]

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