One afternoon after having picked up my twin daughters from school and arriving home I began to shuffle through the piles of paperwork they had in their folders. Only in kindergarten, each day they usually still come home with a stack of completed worksheets, art, newsletters, homework packets and various event and activity announcements. Since school started in August we have already sold Ducky Derby tickets, raised donations for a Jog-A-Thon, purchased school t-shirts, put in an advance order for a school yearbook, ordered reading books from Scholastic to raise money for their class, donated snacks a couple of times for the classroom and I’ve gone on two field trips. I actually love seeing their completed work and “ooh and ahh” over their art and the field trips with my daughters were wonderful. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss them for anything. Yet on this one particular day, as I saw requests for parent volunteers for the upcoming Harvest Festival, the sign-up sheet for parent conferences and yet more announcements, I felt like I was either going to cry or hyperventilate.
In the midst of this new role of kindergarten mommy I still work a 40 hour job Monday through Friday and I still pursue my writing and art interests. The last two are simply a big part of who I am as a creative person. There are at times other events that come into play. The most recent was preparing for my mom’s 70th birthday party. It didn’t help that I went through a melancholy state prior to the big event. Fortunately my creative and artistic sister-in-law sent some much needed inspiration my way and before I knew it I was in full blown creativity mode putting together photo posters, a memory/photo book, and a slide show. It was all fun and I loved the reason for doing it. There was however also a moment, much like the hyperventilating/crying episode, where I told my husband in the kitchen, in the midst of the mayhem of a dog, a cat and two very busy and talkative five-year-olds, that I felt more like a human doing than a human being.
The act of going through loads of family photos to create a memory/photo book also made me take a good long look at the passage of time and how it all flows and moves and spirals along. There was nostalgia and this thought that in some regards the passage of my mom’s 70 years on this planet went by so quickly. The same goes for my 42 years. It seems like my five year old daughters were just babies and I do know that, in what may seem like just a blink of an eye, they will be teenagers and then adults.
Perhaps it was divine intervention or synchronicity working its magic, but I happened to receive a newsletter from a Buddhist publication called Tricycle Magazine. Honestly I get so many emails that some days I just go through and delete anything that isn’t from a human being I actually know. This time I happened to take the time to peruse the newsletter and a book by Lama Surya Das called Buddha Standard Time: Awakening to the Infinite Possibilities of Now was featured. The synopsis caught my interest and I ordered a copy. I felt a little desperate to learn how I might better handle time.
The very day the book arrived I read the introduction that night in bed. I had to laugh out loud when only on page five the author writes this (note the bold section is my emphasis, not the authors):
“One of the main obstacles to making peace with time is that we tend to experience it linearly: we keep moving forward, doing and accomplishing things, rather than just being. We are human beings, after all, not human doings. It costs us dearly to live only on the linear axis of time. We lose connection with our deeper and most authentic selves, too often mistaking mere movement for purpose and meaning. We adapt to a fast and faster tempo that keeps us feeling busy, but rarely with a sense of accomplishment. Staggering forward on a treadmill of events, we gather momentum until we lose any sense of how to stop. We are expert adapters, but the complexity and speed of our world require something other than merely adapting to its pace.”
In the introduction the author also shares these thoughts to which I found myself shaking my head in agreement:
“Many of us feel that the modern efforts to save time have backfired, bringing onerous new problems of their own. Our technological advances and constant availability have blurred the line between leisure time and work. No sooner do we wrap our minds around a new computer program than it becomes obsolete. We can end up wasting precious minutes stuck on the phone with someone on the other side of the world, trying to figure out how to reset the computer brain in our dryer, or stove, or espresso machine. It takes time to learn how to do online banking, connect with friends on Facebook, master the complexities of smartphones and GPS units, and download a best seller to our e-readers. When Excel crashes and the work is lost after we’ve spent an hour entering data for a deadline, our blood pressure skyrockets. There’s even technology to fix stress created by technology. I recently learned of an experimental Google feature called Email Addict that shuts you out of your inbox, forcing compulsive e-mail checkers to give it a break.
Don’t get me wrong. I think we’re living in an amazing age, as miraculous and futuristic as anything out of Star Trek and Jetsons episodes of my youth. I love being able to talk on my laptop face-to-face with someone on the other side of the world or to download a book or piece of music in a minute. The problem for a lot of us is figuring out how to disconnect from all this intensity for some peace and quiet. And how much of the time-related stress in our lives comes from trying to accommodate every single person who wants a piece of our day? Do you suffer from the “disease to please,” striving to satisfy all those who make a claim on your time? Many of us are torn between the desire to be generous with our time and the need to conserve our own energy. It takes only a few seconds to read a 140-character Twitter message, but the cost of the total distraction lasts far longer. The thinner we spread ourselves, the more we skitter over the surface of our lives, never going deep. And since we can be tracked down just about anywhere, anytime, it seems there is literally no escape.
In the pages that follow, I’ll teach you how to wean yourself from the addictions that sap time and energy, to clear out all the debris and distraction—in much the same way that a snow globe becomes calm and clear when you stop shaking it and allow the flakes to settle. You’ll see, for example, that we can stay at our desks or in a traffic jam and, however momentarily, genuinely give our attention to the present moment as a way of finding inner peace.
I want to show you how to coexist peacefully with the inevitable, the inexorable march of time. As a Buddhist, I’ve long studied the question of how to live authentically and joyfully in the present moment, and how to remain mindful, centered, and harmonious no matter what challenges come my way.”
In my own head I am shouting “Yes! Please show me how to find inner peace and coexist peacefully with time!”
As I’ve delved deeper into the book here are some excerpts I have highlighted and would like to share:
“If we cultivate clarity, detachment, and equanimity, we can learn to remain still and calm amid the torrent of commitments, no longer our over scheduled lives to rob us of the time we need to recalibrate and connect to the natural world, ourselves, and each other. For time moves on whether we are hurtling through life or savoring it. The big transformations can take place outside our daily awareness, until a stark reminder catches us up; hearing the new crack in the voice of a teenage son, perhaps, or seeing the unwelcome surprise of a gray hair, or wondering how it ‘suddenly’ became winter.”
“In my lectures, I always advise people to spend some time outdoors every day, even if only taking on e deep breath out of the window or star gazing on their way to their front door…When was the last time you felt the supportive, accepting vital energy of our earthly mother? Was it when you were a child, lying on your back in the grass?…Nature is the original fountain of knowledge, beauty, sustenance, and spiritual inspiration for all people everywhere,,,And then when you get a chance, go outdoors and find a quiet place to experience that moment of grace. It is a choice to go through life with a cell phone in your hand. Disconnect yourself from the wondrous gift of our technology often enough to remember that natural wonders have always existed and have always brought solace.”
“Don’t discount the possibility that you are putting unnecessary pressure on yourself…Ask yourself, Will it really change anything if this gets done a little later, or tomorrow? If not, relax and work out a realistic schedule. IF so, keep going, but intersperse the task with brief exercise, meditations, breath, or phone breaks, and don’t worry that they’re keeping you from your work, because they’re not: they’re enabling you to complete it.”
“One study indicated that in the busiest, most fast-paced modern American cities, people were the least likely to stop in the street and exhibit basic helping behavior, whereas slower-paced cities, such as those in the South and Southwest, exhibited more such altruism. It’s been theorized that cognition narrows through making haste, and also that as the speed of life increases, ethics becomes a luxury. As Rumi, the sublime Persian poet and mystic, wrote, ‘Come out of the circle of time and into the circle of love.’”
Creating a sacred space is another suggestion of the authors and he describes his own practice this way. “For over forty years, I have always kept a little altar or shrine of some sort, made out of furniture, logs, stones, cardboard boxes, crates covered with cloth, or whatever was handy and fitting. Such a space helps focus my meditation as well as my energies and daily home life. Now I have a meditations room in my home and I sit there first thing every morning for an hour, and sit there, however briefly, at night too…On the altar, I like to see a peaceful Buddha statue and some flowers or fruit offerings, incense, perhaps a crystal or special mirror to remind me of the timeless, ever-shining innate light of Spirit. Sometimes, during the day, I just cruise by, wave, and say hi to my teacher’s picture and the icons on the wall – just to cheer myself up. It’s like putting myself through a little karmic drive-through car wash, and I come out brighter every time.”
In the closing chapter Lama Surya Das shares these thoughts:
“When you make peace with time, and are not hurried and harried, you will find that room mysteriously opens up for new possibilities. Each moment is a doorway to the divine state of grace. Patience is a facet of the jewel of love, allowing enough time to create intimacy in relationship rather than experience them as ships passing in the night, which rushing through life is likely to give you instead. Mental calm, centeredness, and clarity provide a healing, nourishing pause in the frantic activity of our lives.”
Last, but not least, the final chapter closes with the author’s Ten Tips and Pointers for Befriending Time.
- Rest in the breath while letting go of all thoughts, concerns, plans, worries and preoccupations.
- Be mindful of the physical sensations you feel right now.
- Feel the good earth beneath your feet or the seat that cradles you.
- Chant a mantra or sacred phrase again and again, with pure, undivided concentration and focus.
- Make eye contact with another being, and feel compassion and loving-kindness for whomever you are with.
- Smile at someone, hug someone, or help someone.
- Go outside and make contact with nature through the sky, clouds, trees, a flower, a body of water, the earth between your fingers, or any other manifestation of the magnificent natural world.
- Read sacred words from the world’s wisdom traditions and scriptures.
- Take a bread, a sacred pause, an “honorable rest” – whether for Sabbath or just for an hour or two – at least once a week, if not every day.
- Listen to music, sing, dance, create, pray, and play.
Now breathe, smile, and relax…You have time.
So has the wisdom of the book sunk in yet? Am I feeling more at peace with time? Am I likely to hyperventilate any time soon? The first step I have taken, which is the author’s first recommendation, is to turn to nature for my grounding. I have always loved nature. I have always found some peace in just gazing at a scenic natural view. When life gets busy, even doing this can get cast aside. There are times like today when I went for a walk through the neighborhood with my daughters. We marveled at some of the giant leaves lying on the ground. We stopped and watched some birds at a neighbor’s giant bird feeder. I pointed out some mushrooms and a gnome almost hidden in another neighbor’s woodsy front yard. When we returned home the three of us raked leaves in the back yard. It is cute what can entertain and amuse five year olds. After creating piles the two of them then had a ball jumping in the leaves. My heart was happy at watching my daughters enjoy such a simple pleasure.
And sometimes, when time feels more fleeting, I am merely reminding myself to stop, take in the view of the sunrise, or my backyard bathed in the golden light of an autumn evening, or marvel at a gaggle of geese flying above, and simply gaze.