It is perhaps the only quantifiable commodity on earth that cannot be contained. It is omnipresent but infinitely precious. We are hyper-conscious of it, but value most the moments when we completely forget about it. It moves perpetually and is measured in even increments, although it certainly doesn’t always feel consistent. It flies when we’re having fun and drags on mercilessly when we’re bored. We are powerless to stop it no matter how much we beg it to, nor will it speed up on demand when we want to arrive at some future destination more quickly. We make countless efforts to “manage” it, although we know that ultimately it is out of our control. In our frustration, however, we forget the part of the equation we do have some influence over…
Mindfulness chatter talks to us a lot about staying the “present moment,” which following the previous logic, is a bit counterintuitive, since that moment is always moving. But of course, as it moves, so do you. Time doesn’t just pass you by, it takes you with it. And just because you’re not paying attention to the present moment, doesn’t mean it won’t just roll itself right into the next one while you’re not looking. In fact, that lack of attention seems to be exactly what energizes time the most. The less you focus on the moment at hand, the more likely it is to run away from you. Not surprising when you think about it, is it? Nobody likes to be ignored.
Of course, the passage of time affects all of us, but those of us trying to do the work of roughly three or four mere humans seem to feel it especially acutely. The present moment doesn’t abide your need to be sitting in one meeting while planning for the next, to outline your schedule for tomorrow while a friend tells you about their day, or respond to earlier texts while sitting in traffic. It wants all of your attention because it has a lot it wants to show you.
Not only is it impossible to do multiple things well when you do them at the same time (your brain doesn’t actually multi-task), the act of trying alone is stressful. The toggle back and forth is chaotic and makes you feel out of control, which creates a whole other project for the brain, focused on the balancing act itself. All the while, the clock ticks while your wheels turn, and feels like time is getting away from you…because it is.
If you’ve ever done a seated meditation for a fixed period of time, you’ve probably experienced one of the interesting effects presence seems to have on time. When I work with MBA applicants who are taking the GMAT, we often talk about time management during the exam, and the impact that a consistent wave of underlying panic can have on the speed of the minutes flying by. When you meditate, however, well then you seem to have all the time in the world, right? You close your eyes for 2 minutes and it feels like at least 10 or 15. Yes, I’ll admit, you might be a little bit bored, but also, you’re calm. A calm mind experiences time a lot differently than one that’s freaking out.
Mindfulness connects you to the experience of what’s actually happening right now, instead of your imagination’s idea of what might happen later on, or what someone else thought of what happened yesterday. It makes you realize how full a single moment can be, or maybe already is when you’re fully paying attention.
If you want more time, then take it. Catch your breath and bring your full self to the moment you’re in right now. What you are able to do with it has everything to do with how much you notice about it, and your ability to gently ignore anything that doesn’t belong in it.
Photo credit: Jez Timms