Are You Losing the Race Against Time?

Written by David Nichtern

It seems that almost everyone I know feels that they are racing against time, even those of us who are meditation teachers! Our world is rich and diverse and there are so many things we want to see and do and squeeze into our lives while we are able.

We might also feel like there are a lot of things that we have to do, for ourselves or for others — work, family, survival etc. Many of us are overbooked and running on a low tank or, in some cases, running on empty — and racing against the clock at the same time.

Contemplation is a traditional Buddhist practice in which you hold your mind to a particular theme — to explore and better understand your relationship to that theme.

Through contemplation, habitual patterns can be recognized and insights crystallize. You could contemplate compassion, impermanence, contentment, patience, kindness, even the nature of the mind itself.

I have been contemplating time lately — trying to better understand what it actually is and my relationship to it. Time can be our master, or time can be our servant. It is really up to us. Herein I would like to offer several observations and suggest a contemplation that works with each. Even though contemplation takes time, it might save you time in the end!

If you’d like to try the contemplations, simply find a quiet place to sit and allow yourself the luxury of taking a look at your habits and to see what insights arise. FIve minutes should be a good length for each contemplation, but feel free to go shorter or longer if it feels right:

Observation: Our experience of time depends on our relationship to it.

Contemplate your relationship to time. Do you feel that you have enough time to do what you need to do? What you like to do? How much time are you wasting every day? Which parts of the obstacles you face are due to shortage of time, and which are actually due to other problems, such as laziness or lack of clarity?

(You can pick any of these singly or several together to contemplate.)

Observation: Running on empty? We may need to stop running to fill up the tank.

If we examine our energy bank, we can easily see that certain activities deplete us and some are restorative. I think many of us feel that we are engaged in so many activities that are draining and can’t quite get to the ones that are restorative. When we feel good, rested, we seem to be able to handle all kinds of things and maintain a positive attitude. When we are exhausted and depleted, even walking across the room to put a dish in the sink can feel like a burden.

Contemplate your relationship to energy. How do you spend time depleting your energy and how do you spend time regenerating your energy?

Observation: Time seems elastic

When we are watching a great movie, or having a good conversation with an old friend, time seems to race by. When we are waiting for somebody or something, when we are bored, tired or irritated, when we are engaged in an unappealing task, time seems to go by slowly.

Contemplate your experience of time in relation to various activities. When does time seem to go by slowly for you and when does it go quickly? What is the relationship between your experience of time and your sense of drudgery or enjoyment? How do you experience waiting and anticipation? What is your relationship to patience?

Observation: Meditation practice and time.

I believe that if we learn how to relax and open our mind to the present moment fully, we can experience time in a completely different way. My teacher, Trungpa Rinpoche, moved very slowly, was never in a rush and got a tremendous amount accomplished. I saw it with my own eyes and have seen other great teachers demonstrate the quality of mastering time. It is possible.

Contemplate working with our relationship to time. Can we change the way we relate to time? Can we balance our energy input and output? If so, how could we go about that? What should we change? What should we cultivate? What should we reject? What is the potential value of taking some time to learn about our minds and our habits and to perhaps change our relationship to time?



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