Not Enough Time
Picture the scene in my flat earlier today. I am sitting quietly sipping my breakfast tea when the phone rings and at the same time my front door buzzes. I know I have an appointment in an hour and had not planned on these diversions from my timetable. Suddenly the sense I had of my day stretching out in front of me vanishes and instead I feel pressured. No longer feeling leisurely, I feel overstretched and harassed and, in the fifteen minutes that it takes to deal with the callers both at the door and on the phone I feel as if five minutes have gone by.
Later that same day I take a walk in a park and sit quietly on a bench looking at the sky. I feel at one in the stillness of the landscape and when I look at my watch I am surprised that only a quarter of an hour has passed – in this calm space it seems as if I have been here for a leisurely half an hour. Interestingly, I feel refreshed and re energised whilst it seems as if time has slowed down and stretched out.
Looking at these two episodes we can conclude that time is relative – it is perceived passing at different speeds according to how we feel inside ourselves. When we are flustered and pressured we feel time speeding up and when we are calm and tranquil we will have an expanded sense of time or as if we have all the time in the world. Furthermore how we experience time has an impact on our health and research shows that when we let go of feeling pressurised by it we experience more health benefits.
How did we come to create this idea of time and allow it to develop into a tyrant that impacts on the quality and length of our lives? The “western” or Judaeo Christian view of time is linear which is to say it is seen as a line that travels from the past to the present to the future. The personal development teacher Steve Taylor sees linear time as a result of our having developed strong egos. He writes:
“Our strong ego structure gives rise to …’thought chatter’, the habit of constantly talking to ourselves inside our heads. …We seem to have lost control of this mental talk…our egos won’t stop talking to themselves… (and) this constant stream of thought chatter …gives rise to our strong sense of linear time. Almost all of it is concerned with the state of the future and the past in some way – memories of past experiences or plans, daydreams and projections of the future.”
Our ego based perception of time has its uses –it allows us to order and organise events and get things done at set times- doubtless it has developed as a survival tool – but it also means that we no longer live in the present. Living in the past we regret tasks undone and pressure ourselves to complete tasks set up for the future. In this way we have created a tyrant out of time, we feel stressed and suffer. But with a little training of the egoic mind we can ensure that time is no longer a tyrant squeezing us with its demands. And one of the best teachers to show us how to handle and train the time conscious ego is the Daoist.
Cycles of Change
Whereas our 21st century view of time as linear is a result of a strong and rigid ego developed over millenia, the Daoist experience of time is to see it as cyclical – as cycles of change. For example the seasons change from spring through summer to late summer, autumn, winter and back to spring. This is observable truth unlike the idea of linear time which is an idea imposed upon reality. We in western culture have divided time up mathematically into hours, minutes and seconds and given names to months and days. We have separated ourselves from the natural world by creating arbitrary divisions of time and as we try to meet the demands of these divisions through rigid timetabling and multi tasking, unsurprisingly we may well feel pressured. Instead the Daoist aims to consciously be part of the whole, part of the cycles of change, and respond in harmony to them. This means getting up with the sun and later bedding down as it sets, living in a way that calmly responds to the needs of the present moment rather than the demands of a man made timetable.
The Daoist practitioner lives in harmony with the cycle of the Five elements, drawing in during winter and expending more energy in the summer. She eats at a time when the stomach chi flourishes and sleeps when the kidneys are at their lowest ebb of energy. Living in harmony with these natural cycles she is quietening her heart rate and lowering her blood pressure alleviating stress and lengthening life. Furthermore certain practices help the mind to become yielding and still. Practises such as Chi Gung, Tai Chi and meditation are central to the Daoist training of the egoic mind – they slow it down to experience timelessness. In my own practice of Daoist disciplines I have noticed that time seems to stop as my mind stills, my breathing quietens. In this way I am able to live more in the moment and less according to a rigid plan worked out by my more cerebral chatterbox ego. And no need to get rid of my diary- I will still make that 11.30 appointment to the dentist but I won’t have been thinking of it beforehand (getting stressed) and if something crops up I will be flexible enough to reschedule if I am in this state of quietude and tranquility. Some multitasking is unavoidable but we should be aware not to overdo it.
Our modern 21st century world has many comfortable pluses but it comes with a price. As we rush about multi tasking making time our enemy and feeling stressed we deeply affect our health and well being. The Daoist way of living according to natural cycles, rather than strictly in accordance with linear time, and through the cultivation of inner stillness and tranquility, brings us back into harmony in body, mind and spirit. Practise this mindfulness exercise to help you be more aware of the here and now, to slow down and develop an expanded sense of time.
Make a set of cards divided into different senses containing instructions like: “Sight: look at your hands, paying attention to the different lines, textures and shades.” And “Taste: eat a piece of fruit carefully and pay attention to the different flavours and sensations.” Or “Touch: go into your living room and feel the fabrics, the cushions and rugs.” Or “Smell: visit a park and smell the plants and flowers.” And “Listen: open the window and listen to the sounds in the street.” For each sense make 5 cards with different instructions. Choose one per day and be aware of how vivid and intense your senses are by the time you have worked your way through all 25 cards. Notice how time slows down as you focus on the activity in the moment.
1.Taylor Steve “Making Time” Icon Books 2007
This article first appeared in Positive Health Magazine. See www.positivehealth.com
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