Time is often thought of a fixed scientifically measurable entity, yet experientially we have moments when time warps, expands, and contracts.
When stuck at the office at the end of the day and wanting to leave for a date with a new love, the hands on the clock, which we check every few seconds, seem to move backwards—time has stopped. When at last we spend the evening with the object of our affections the time passes all too swiftly as the hours fly by.
The modern cri de coeur is, “There’s not enough time in the day! I need more hours.” If we understand the experiential quality of time to be malleable, then perhaps this is not as impossible as it sounds.
Here are some suggestions to play with in order to encourage an experiential expansion of time.
One: Step into Choice
Often we feel oppressed by time and our schedules; we express this in the language we use, “I have to be at the airport at 3:00 p.m.,” “I have to meet my friends at 6:00,” “I have to get to work.” When we actually look at most of these activities they are choices within our control rather than actions that control us. There may be strong reasons that we want to make these appointments in a timely fashion: I want to be at the airport at 3:00 p.m. because the security line can be long and I like to leave time to get through it easily and buy a cup of tea and a newspaper.
However, even the “have to” of catching the flight is a choice. “I want to catch my flight.” No one is making us catch that flight.
These may seem like merely semiotic differences but experiment with your language use and see what happens. I, myself, and many of my coaching clients have found when we play with our use of words it creates an energetic shift in our experience. When we move to the language of desire, “I want” in regards to our daily activities and away from the language of oppression “I have to”, we feel empowered and energized.
Instead of our time and our scheduled activities feeling like things that rule us, they feel like enterprises we want to engage in. This shift in perspective creates more fluid energy in the subtle body (our experiential, feeling body), which gives us a sense of agency, confidence, and empowerment that makes time feel more manageable and easeful.
Two: Reconnect with the Earth
When we are in a time-crunch then our body reacts: we feel tense, our shoulders lift up towards our ears, our head and upper body lean forward into action. Our awareness rises into the upper body and we feel disconnected from the earth as our focus is projected out onto the external world and our activity within it. In Tibetan medical terminology, this creates a lung, or wind, disorder (what we might term stress or anxiety).
Try taking a moment to come back down to earth. Feel your feet. Allow your shoulder blades to glide down your back and away from your ears. Relax your jaw. Breathe down into your lower belly. Then return to activity but stay connected to this place: feel your movement coming from your belly instead of your head, or every now and again feel your feet. This brings a greater sense of ease into your felt experience and also allows you to connect with the earth as a limitless source of energy and confidence.
The earth element supports all our activity and accommodates all action and emotionality that occurs on its surface. When we connect with the earth, by allowing ourselves to settle onto it in these ways, not only does it absorb our tension, fears, and anxieties but it also holds us up, energizes us, and gives us the confidence which comes from a stable and reliable foundation.
Three: Meditate and Be Mindful
The more mindful, or attentive, we become through our regular meditation practice, the less likely we are to have small accidents due to inattention, such as scraping the car as we exit the garage, spilling our coffee on the counter, forgetting those important documents for work. This literally saves us time.
In our Monday evening meditation classes, we work with mindful listening and speech. When we work with such practices in relationship, we find that we develop harmony in those relationships. We hear more accurately what others say to us and speak with more clarity.
As we communicate effectively, fewer misunderstandings occur and we spend less time speaking at odds and having to then unravel all that miscommunication.
The most profound aspect of meditation and time for me is that when we drop deeply into the present moment we actually transcend time. We enter what in Buddhism is called the “Fourth Time,” or the eternal (which is not a really long period of time but experience which stands outside the constructs of time all together).
This is illustrated in a story from the life of the great Tibetan yogi, Milarepa. A shepherd boy, having received meditation instruction from Milarepa, set off to meditate on the mountains. A week later the boy’s father sought out Milarepa looking for his son whom no one had seen since his visit. They eventually found the boy meditating on the mountainside oblivious to time. He is only convinced that so much time has passed when he sees that the morning sun is lower in the sky than when he first started meditating, meaning that at least one night had certainly passed. In meditation he experientially entered the timeless state.
It is unusual for this to happen in your first meditation session—this is a practice that we need to spend time and effort cultivating on a daily basis.
However, the effect meditation can have on our relationship to time are fascinating and well worth our diligence in meditation practice.
Four: Avoid the Rush
It is not unusual for a meditation class participant to enter the door with a lot of speed and rush, and then laugh at herself “I’m rushing to meditate!” Not only does this sense of rushing make us feel harried, it rarely gets us anywhere significantly quicker and can actually lead to time-consuming accidents and mindless mistakes.
For example, I run out the door to the car and in my rush I forget my car keys. The attitude of speed is additional to the physical work of arriving somewhere on time or accomplishing the task at hand, and takes our attention away from where it is most useful.
If we can step away from the speed and rush and stay simply with the task at hand the more efficiently we manage our activity and the more at ease we will feel as well.
As the old adage goes, “More speed less haste.” Although I do not like the word speed with its connotations of aggression and pushing, the idea is a valid one. Move towards accomplishing what needs to be accomplished without the additional anxiety-inducing push and clumsiness of haste or rushing.
We can accomplish this by: 1. Having the intention to reduce the rush; 2. Turning your awareness on—“I want to notice when I’m rushing”, know how you feel when you rush (for example, my heart races, I feel oppressed); 3. Know how to unwind the rush—take a deep breath, feel your feet, feel your body, take notice of your physical environment; 4. Move into action from this place of awareness and embodiment.
Five: Reconnect with the Present Moment and Present Reality
A great way to work with time is to focus on the present moment. I find my sense of time crushed more and more when I start looking at my calendar and the coming days and weeks with a sense of, “I have so much to do.” All those appointments start looking oppressive, confusing, and overwhelming when I gather them all up into this present moment.
When I remind myself that I can just approach these items one at a time, and take one day at a time, I feel a greater sense of spaciousness. In those moments of time-crunch it can be a wonderful relief to step outside that mind-frame for a moment and ask: “What is actually happening right now in this moment?” “What is my current physical reality?” “What am I currently feeling in my body?”
As the great Tibetan master, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, said, “When lost in confusion, refer to present physical reality.”
This works well for time overwhelm. Come back to right now, feel your body, feel your feet or your seat on the earth, and feel the space around you. When our thoughts project into the future or past, body and mind become separated. The mind can travel through the three times—past, present, and future—but the body is always in the present moment. Allowing the mind to focus on the body’s experience brings the mind back into the present moment, synchronizing body and mind, and feeling more easeful.
I hope you enjoy experimenting with these ideas and find something useful here. I would love to hear about your experiences with them and with time.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
Photo: courtesy of the author