Monday, August 6, 2012

Reconsidering Time

What does time mean to you? Do you live your life by the clock or try to avoid it altogether? What’s your time worth?

Time is mostly just the way we organize and manage our lives. It’s a way for us all to be marching to the same social beat. It makes important things run more smoothly. And for many, the faster you go, the more you can succeed. But time is also inevitable. Time is change, and change is constant. Exactly how we keep track of time doesn’t even matter much; what matters more is if we agree upon that method.

Some of us have time-dictated careers, where we operate within a strict time-oriented structure. Keeping up with this, then, dictates whether we are successful or not; For instance, doctors, therapists, and those whose days are filled with appointments or deadlines. Others have more project-oriented careers, which isn’t quite as time-specific and may have more flexibility. While there may not be many careers where time is not a factor, how you ‘sync’ up with your livelihood may be affecting your wellbeing.

Which fits you best: Do you thrive under time constraints and find that they motivate you? Do you resent the rigidity of the clock and external pressures? Or do you appreciate the boundaries that the structure of time creates?

As always, extremes are draining. Having too little time may make you too scattered to think straight, let alone stop to smell the roses along the way. But having too much time can make you feel lost, unclear about your purpose, and disconnected from others. Do you thrive from the kind of structure that comes with your job or lifestyle? Or does it not fit with your natural sense of rhythm?

At Middle Way Health we have to use time as a tool for our practice. So in a sense, we have a partnership with time. However, since we don’t want to feel slaves to time, we have to make sure its confines don’t get too narrow and that we have breathing space and downtime. Both business and personal relationships are affected by time – whether productively on not. When each party has a different way of dealing with time, conflict can arise. For instance, a couple may constantly battle with tardiness versus punctuality.

What matters most about time? It affects us all. Whether we agree to meet at noon or when the sun is directly overhead, it helps us create some structure within which we can make things happen. But what also matters is how we look at time and engage with it. Fearing there’s never enough time is going to make that fear come true, because you’re always rushing and never feel caught up. But time is somewhat fluid, actually. The faster you go, the faster it seems to go. The less you have to do, the more it seems to creep along. The more you love what you do, the richer the time and space seem to get. But wasting one’s time… now, that’s another story. If you take time for granted, you may be taking your life for granted. For when you waste your time, you can never get it back.

If your life feels dictated by time to the extent that you resent it, your relationship with time needs help. If you generally disregard time, you may come across as disrespecting others’ time. But if you work with time and create a nice pairing of time-sensitive and free-time, your life will feel more balanced and be more manageable.

We all have flexible time – time that is ours to do with what we will. Even if that time is the seven hours we allot to sleep at night, it’s up to us whether we prioritize our time and create some downtime for ourselves. Sure, sleep helps re-charge our bodies, but our minds and spirits need their own time too. It might do us a world of good to get up an hour early to do yoga, journal, meditate or work on that prized vintage car. The point is, we are in a relationship with time and need to communicate our priorities perhaps more than we have to compromise them.

While most of us would like to throw away our watches and live in a timeless world, the desire to disengage in this way means we’re not relating to time properly. The clock and incessant minute-hand are man-made time keepers, but they are based on nature’s time: the natural rhythms that keep us alive (such as the sun and moon dancing from day to night and our hearts pumping blood and oxygen).

There is a spirituality to time as well, although we don’t tend to think of it this way. Buddhism’s Kalachakra teachings, for example, are about cycles of time and learning to harmonize your time. Things like weekends, getaways and retreats – when you lose track of date and time and are on sun and moon-time – are good for the soul. Letting ourselves “lose track of time” once in a while and experience the freeness of just being elevates the spirit from our mind-driven world. So to take a snapshot of that vacation mentality back with you, think of time as breaths per minute rather than a piece of metal or plastic running your life. It’ll make time a more grounded, embodied, personal and meaningful part of your days.