Last Thanksgiving when we went around the table telling what we were thankful for, 12-year-old Chaney Wells said, "I’m thankful for time. It lets me know when a friend is coming over to play." Right then it dawned on me I was seeing a rare thing – a friendly relationship with time. I’m not sure I know any adult with that perspective. When I hear grownups talk about time, what they say is usually tainted with fear, anger, frustration, and hopelessness.
Time is a complex, paradoxical concept. It exists only in the mind and so it is as multifaceted as the mind. The way I relate to time is based on the conditioning of my mind.
For the aborigines, time is spacious, measured by seasons and lifetimes. For contemporary, Western people it is cramped and fleeting, measured even to a billionth of a second.
I am coming to know much about myself, my beliefs and habits, by observing my relationship with time. I am also coming to the conclusion that our obsession with speed and technology has contributed greatly to the state of decay that is prevalent in our world today. It has distracted us at great cost.
24 Hours are Enough
This relationship with time has been formed gradually by values dictated to our society by the world of business. There, time is equated with money. It is closely watched and jealously guarded. We let it tyrannize us.
Time is not money. Time is a way of measuring an interval. Most people like to say they do not have enough time. What is more accurate is, "I am trying to do more than I have time for. I am not in control of my time. I am letting time control me." There are 24 hours in a day; we all have the same amount, and it is enough.
Time is precious, not because it is scarce, but because it is a gift you give of yourself. The quality of your life is dramatically impacted by the way you give of your time. Nothing of true value is ever created without time being spent, so you are always determining, by design or default, the experience of quality you are willing to give yourself.
Many in our society speak of a loss of meaning in their lives. I think a loss of meaning is often a signal that the person’s time is being poorly spent. You can’t find meaning without taking time to look for it. It takes time to reflect, to look inwardly and sort out what is meaningful to you. And it’s a discovery only you can make for yourself. It asks that you slow down, spend time alone, and then meaning can find you.
In a similar vein there is for many a sense of isolation. I wonder if much of that is because we value speed, stimulation, and acquisitions more than each other and the natural world. We no longer experience our ties to these larger communities. Increasingly we are eliminating the experience of relatedness because we aren’t exercising discernment about how and with whom we spend our time. We crowd our lives with strangers, machines, and concrete. No wonder we feel so alone.
In the business world there is much talk about the need for creativity. This unique human ability demands a period of time, of incubation, when you allow the barriers of the mind to relax. If we succumb to a burdensome schedule we may opt for the quick fix or use the same solutions over and over. We need relaxation in order to receive the gifts of inspiration and insight that fuel creativity. Then we start tapping into our real potential. These gifts come at a price. Time is the currency.
Time is a wonderful teacher. It provides me an opportunity to examine my honesty and integrity. When I notice the multitude of stories and strategies I have about time, most of them are in the service of avoidance or resistance. Time often becomes the scapegoat to avoid the real heart of the matter – telling the truth. "There wasn’t enough time," glides off the tongue. Becoming aware of deeper truths about our motives requires slowing down and listening. Are you ever acknowledged for slowing down? It is a profound act of courage and wisdom to slow down.
I used to think there was never enough time. I hurried. I was always on time. I hated to be kept waiting. Time was crisp and clear. I let it define me – impatient, abrupt, frenetic. But like Chaney Wells, I want to be on friendly terms with time. I want to stop this abuse of myself and others. Enough is enough. So, I am learning to go slow and relax. Because of this I see the humor in people and life more readily. I am softer. This is delicious. Life is simpler and I can see what is essential. I am becoming peaceful. Many things are becoming clear. I am coming to know myself, this world, and my place in it.
Time used to be an enemy. Now it is a friend.
Kim McMillen is a business consultant in organizational health and one of the authors of When the Canary Stops Singing: Women’s Perspectives on Transforming Business.