How much of your day is influenced by time?
It’s somewhat ironic that the one thing our lives are inseparably tangled in (and with) is the very thing we tend to feel a dearth of – TIME. There just isn’t enough of it! Though chances are, as with most things, if we had more of it, we’d probably just find more ways to give it away and, in the end, we’d still feel like we were always running short.
Do you have the luxury of waking up simply when your body is ready to wake up on its own? Or do you “have to get up” at a certain time to officially begin your day? Do you have specific duties that have to be done at (or by) certain times? Getting the kids to school, for example, which might mean getting them up, preparing breakfast, lunches, making sure they’re wearing clothing (and that it’s not yours), driving them or making sure they make it to the bus “on time.” What then? How about afternoons? Evenings? Are weekends different? Does time unravel just a bit at the end of the week, does it loosen up a little, or do you have even more to get done then?
Over the next week (that’s seven days starting from the moment you read this), I’m going to ask you to give one person a gift. If I asked you to choose someone you know who needs to catch his/her breath, you might think of your spouse, your parents, your boss, your employee, your friend, your neighbor, and so on. Just deciding who to pick might take time you don’t really have. So I’ve picked for you. Just this once.
The person I’m asking you to give the gift to is YOU!
There’s no money involved. Nothing material. The gift is TIME. Maybe it’s 30-minutes. Maybe it’s one hour. Maybe it’s an afternoon or an evening. I’ll leave the specifics up to you (except it needs to be at least half an hour).
You might even try this with your partner, your best friend, your sister or brother, and reciprocate (they help you give yourself this gift of time and then you help them do the same for themselves).
I’m asking you, however, to NOT say, “I’ll give you an hour and you can give me one.” No, I want you to GIVE YOURSELF the hour (or the half hour or whatever you decide). Maybe they help make that possible by picking up the kids for school one morning or by letting your kids spend the night or by making you dinner one evening so you can got for a nice long walk. Maybe you don’t need to bring anyone else in at all.
The key is that it is YOU giving the gift (of TIME) to YOU.
“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” – William Penn
I used to always think that if I focus on myself and put myself first, even for just one hour, that I would be selfish. I’ve spent pretty much a lifetime doing just the opposite, making time for myself only after everyone else had their time. Finding scraps and duct taping them together into half-an-hour here or there. Recently, I realized something. Call it an epiphany, perhaps, but whatever it was I realized that NOT GIVING MYSELF ANY TIME FOR MYSELF is being SELFISH. After all, how stressed do we get? How easy is it to get overwhelmed by all the things that are out of our control, out of our hands? Having no time to ourselves, just tends to keep us stressed. We need to be able to have healthy outlets for that negative, often pent-up energy. Not doing so can lead to many of our problems – hypertension and over-indulging in unhealthy habits, feelings of frustration and even resentment (toward the people we give our time to and toward ourselves), feeling like we’re suffocating or drowning or that everything is out of control.
I’m not suggesting that giving yourself 30 minutes a week will make everything in the universe line up and fall into place. Then again, I am suggesting that the chances for it doing so are pretty slim if you don’t at least give yourself a little time for you.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such
times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to
decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
- JRR Tolkien
I remember when the Robin William’s movie Dead Poet’s Society came out and the phrase Carpe Diem seemed instantly resurrected. I guess, you could say that the philosophy of seizing the day was “trending” after that for quite awhile. The idea was very appealing, after all. And even the word “seizing” carried a certain ferocity and forcefulness which implied that TIME was something to be taken, to be ripped from the hands of, um, Eternity perhaps, the Alpha & Omega, TIME itself? It suggested that “the day” belonged to something else, not that we tend to parcel it off.
As much as I felt drawn toward, even compelled to do some seizing of my own, there was another part of the concept that felt potentially problematic and that was the word “concern” (and this is probably just one guy’s misinterpretation of the original intent). The definition you usually find of carpe diem is to “enjoy today without concern for tomorrow.” But many of the people I observed seizing the day seemed to interpret the word “concern” to mean without giving any thought whatsoever to tomorrow.
What happens, sometimes, in the quest for carpe diem is that people immerse themselves in enjoying (in having fun) today not just without any concerns, but also without considering the future, without considering the myriad ways that fun might ripple into future moments. Being mindful is different, it suggests that an awareness of the present moment brings its own, unique, enjoyment. The enjoyment is an intrinsic byproduct of slowing down.
“Smile, breathe and go slowly.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
I mention this because, you don’t want to give yourself the gift of time and use it doing something that, in the end, will cost you even more time than you’ve given. Focus on the present moment, focus on the TIME you give yourself, use it to do something that doesn’t require “concern (meaning fear/worry/anxiety), but that does consider the future. Slowing down enough to get together, for example, with a friend for a glass of wine and chatting is one thing. Getting intoxicated is another, for that tends to impact the effectiveness and use of future time as well.
“There comes a time when the world gets quiet and the only thing left is your own heart. So you’d better learn the sound of it. Otherwise you’ll never understand what it’s saying.” – Sarah Dessen
This is a chance to listen. To pay attention to your true self. To slow down and do one things that matters to you. For you! And, in turn, by giving yourself that time, by pursuing that one thing that makes you truly happy, you are giving a gift to others.
Maybe you’re not sure what to do with the time that you give yourself. Maybe you want to try your hand at painting, but what good is half an hour? Maybe you find a class that meets for 30-60 minutes once a week and that’s your gift to yourself. Maybe you just sit down in a room somewhere by yourself (and you let everyone know this is your time and that it’s important) and you hunker down uninterrupted and you just draw (you can even find tips and free instructions for getting started online). Maybe you do that once a week. Only you know what matters to you.
If you still have no idea, here are a few things you might devote the GIFT OF TIME to once a week:
- That Thing You Love Most (listen to yourself and see what you have to say)
- Breathing (simple techniques like bumblebee breath and alternate nostril breathing can be calming)
- Tree Pose (a yoga pose – anyone can try – that can increase your sense of balance and focus)
- Half-an-Hour Devoted to ONE Task Only (NO, watching TV does not count)
- Write a Letter (yes, with paper and pen) – it doesn’t have to be long, but it should take you 5-10 minutes to write. The act of using your body (not just your fingertips) to transcribe thoughts and feelings and memories into words has different effects on the mind and the emotions than using a computer or smartphone.
- Go for a Walk (outside, yes even in winter, maybe even especially in winter – moving your body is great therapy and chances are you have clothing you can use for layers, but do stay warm)
- Get a Massage (this one might cost a little cash, unless you have a friend or partner who can give you one, but the rewards can be many)
- Pedicure (I’ve never done this, but just think about having someone else tend to the part of your body upon which most of us carry everything: you get your toes cleaned and your feet massaged and buffed, even if you skip the polishing part, and the best thing of all is that you’re spending that gifted time slowing down)
- Read a Great Book (this is one of my favorites and can provide the needed distractions that TV provides without the sometime shifts in volume and energy, it stimulates the brain, and can allow you to learn a little about the world and a lot about yourself)
- Sip some tea or a glass of wine (with a friend or by a sunny window or just in a space where you can do so and actually enjoy the tea or the wine)
- Have/Let Someone Else Make the Meal (yes, maybe cleaning up becomes a bit more of a task and maybe it’s also a chance to work together for some bonding, but letting the kids take over one evening, assuming they haven’t been required by the local fire department to stay away from flames – and even, then, there are some great no-flame-required meals to be made – or if not the kids, then a spouse or, if you try the reciprocity alluded to up top, you and your friend or sister or brother or spouse or partner simply swap one night)
- Have/Let Someone Else Watch the Kids (yes, this might require some serious bribery, but just think of it as an investment in your children’s future – i.e. you get away for an hour, are less stressed, which increases the chances of them not getting on your nerves quite as much and, thus, having a future)
- A Night Out with Friends (only you know what that might entail, but remember carpe diem without “concern” over tomorrow, but with a little consideration).
Whatever you do, give yourself the GIFT of TIME. It doesn’t have to be spent doing some life-changing thing like sky diving or volunteering halfway across the world for a month with UNICEF (though it certainly can be).
Maybe it’s an afternoon, or an hour, or half an hour (it should be at least half-an-hour). Believe it or not (and the point is, after all), that just those 30 minutes a week can be life-changing in the end.
And I get the whole, “But I don’t have time to do this,” that is a natural reaction to my suggestion. I get how that’s what you might instinctively feel in your gut and think the instant you see those words. I know busy! But how much time do you spend a day flipping between channels or surfing the internet or doing just one of the countless other things we do to distract ourselves. Ironically, if you try some of those suggested things above, you might be surprised at how they can help you sculpt time (at how much time you find, once you give yourself some time). Chances are, if someone else needed that gift, you’d make time to make it happen. So why not do so for yourself (it ends up being for them, too)?!
Only you can decide how much time and what you do with it, but starting small tends to increase chances for success. Don’t give yourself an afternoon if it means you spend the next three weeks making up for it and reinforcing the fact that you just can’t take time for yourself. You can. You should.
by Greg Pape (from the book Animal Time)
On a wooded hill in San Raphael
not far from the house
was a small cave
where the earth was damp, the rock walls
cool and rough, and there were green scents
of moss and mint.
It was a wonder and a shelter
to look out from.
The ancestors of my young bones
would sit down quietly there
and gaze out of my eyes
into the leaves and branches
sifting the sunlight.
If someone spoke, it was a bird
or a voice too far off to make out the words.
(charts of time usage from the Bureau of Labor Statistics)