More Time Than You Think

Now Clock.gif

There's an old saying, variously attributed to wise teachers of old: "You should meditate for 20 minutes every day, unless you are very busy, in which case you should meditate for an hour." This makes people chuckle. Then they continue going about their very busy lives, thinking to themselves that this applies to other people, but they couldn't possibly find 20 minutes (let alone an hour!) for meditation or anything else. It seems like an additional task for the overflowing To Do list that is their existence.

The same response is often given for a one-time workshop, a daylong retreat, or a multi-week course like MBSR. "Eight weeks! Two and-a-half hour classes? Daily practice? You've got to be kidding!" I even hear this occasionally when I suggest to my Alexander students that they practice Active Rest for 10 - 20 minutes a day. Ironically, the stress-reducing benefits of learning mindfulness practices and incorporating them into your life seem like a fantasy if you feel overwhelmed by the many demands from work, family, and the world at large.

The fascinating truth is, you have enough time. You have more time than you think. The thought, "I don't have enough time" is just a thought, and is rarely true. Two basic things happen to people who feel like they are scheduled every single minute of every day, and couldn't possibly give themselves the time to slow down and recognize the present moment's experience. Either they never slow down or rest in any way, in which case eventually their systems rebel and breakdown, leaving them sick or otherwise unable to function without a long stretch of "time off." Or else folks do find patches of time, and use it to numb out, ignoring their anxious overwhelm with binge-watching or video games or compulsive exercise or Facebook or [your favorite obsession here].

I know it is not easy, especially for parents raising children, and caregivers of all kinds. I know the current economic system demands more and more from workers in every sector while steadily returning less and less for their work (something we really must band together to change). Yet we really do distract ourselves with projects we feel we must do, status we must gain, things we must get or hold onto. It's called a Rat Race for a reason.

Tomorrow I plan to engage in a self-retreat. I rise early and spend the day as if I were at a retreat center, alternating between sitting and walking meditation, sprinkling in some mindful movement, some housekeeping chores, and a little dharma study. I like to do this at least once every quarter, especially during times when I can't get to Insight Meditation Society, my retreat home. I have written about these home retreats before (Leaping Into Mindfulness, Part One and Part Two), and you can read about how I make this possible, the way I structure the day and what I have gained by doing it. The more I devote myself in this way, the more I value the priorities I have set for my continued mindfulness practice.

And this is what it all comes down to: what do you value? What are your priorities? If there was something that could alleviate your stress and suffering, even by 10%, wouldn't you want to figure out a way to include that in your life somehow? And I can say without hesitation that this path of mindfulness reduces suffering by far more than just 10%.

Try this: The next time you are running late or getting behind schedule, stop. Really, just pause for a minute. Take a deep breath. Say to yourself, "I have time" or "There is enough time." Then continue doing whatever you were doing, but hold the sense of not rushing as you proceed. That doesn't mean you might not have to move quickly, but you do not have to push yourself internally. The thought that "I'm going to be late" may or may not turn out to be true, but in the moment you have that thought, let it go. You are never too late for the present moment.

That is not just a nice line for a meme, a cute aphorism from some modern-day spiritual guru. It is literally true. Test it, and see. You will probably find, as I have, that time is super flexible and tends to expand when we ourselves expand and calm and recommit to the present moment's experience, whatever it may be.

This is what we learn to do when we meditate, and step one is taking a seat in the middle of our lives, to practice. You do have time for this. You have more time than you think. What's stopping you from claiming that time for yourself?