I’ve always had this strange relationship to Father Time.
Ever since I could comprehend the concept of measuring moments, time has seemed like a riddle to me: the white noise in the background, always ticking and humming along with each new day. I dance between yesterday and tomorrow and attempt to balance in the present. I reach out and grasp the sand, as it slips through my fingers.
The very concept of time pulls me out of the eternal present. Intellectually, I understand that the only moment there ever has been, and ever will be, is here and now. There will only be now! And, yet, like everyone else, I count time like I count money, measuring it, weighing my value against it.
Time is the number one most precious “commodity” in today’s society. We never seem to have enough of it. And, yet, in many ways, it’s the only thing we do have; it’s the only thing there is.
At extremes, the concept of time makes me anxious. I don’t have enough time to do everything I need. The checklist is never empty. There is always something popping up that needs tending. My focus gets scattered, as new items are added to the list and the pressure of time mounts. My heartbeat skips, my breath becomes shallow. There is too much to do and not enough hours in the day.
The more I go down this time-riddled rabbit hole, the less I end up doing. It’s paralysis by analysis. It’s all very un-yogi and unenlightened of me—so not Eckhart Tolle. I have a lot of work to do. And, yet, here I am, finally sitting and giving myself enough time to put thoughts to words, words to text. Breathe in, breathe out. The practice is always waiting to be born anew.
I live in New York, the “City That Never Sleeps.” Especially here, no one has any time. Lots of people have lots of money, but there is a scarcity of hours. It is the city of achieving, of dreams, of tomorrow. We are all driven by our goals, and that’s part of what makes it such an innovative and vibrant place; it is also why we are all so stressed out, anxious and time poor.
But we are not alone. In almost any modern cosmopolitan city, there are distractions with every vibration in our pocket and new thing to do or person to contact. No one ever has enough time.
We think it’s so, and so it is.
It’s a strange paradox: we supposedly save time with every advancement in technology and yet, the more digital we get, the less time we seem to have. We are hyper-connected to everyone, everywhere, at all times, but we often still feel alone and isolated. We stare at our lists of hundreds or even thousands of “friends,” wishing we had a chance to get together off-line, in real time. We have everything we need to be happy, and yet we don’t have the time to truly enjoy any of it.
The more I feel this way, the more I find that I need to get back to basics. The more present I can become—whether it’s feeling my fingers on the keyboard, my breath as it moves through me or my feet on the ground—the less anxious I feel. Time doesn’t seem to have the same grip on me when I get grounded and present in my body and breath. I enjoy my life more when I give my full attention to my experience. It doesn’t even have to be a pleasurable experience for me to enjoy it. I’m more productive when I can let go of the overwhelming checklists of things I need to do. Connections are deeper and more meaningful then and, in turn, they lead to more productive relationships. A whole cascade of events leads from the moment of choosing presence.
The practice of presence never ends. It’s not something that is obtained overnight. Awareness builds, but it also ebbs and flows. Time speeds up and slows down in accordance with our presence and awareness. The good thing is that there are specific techniques and practices that we can all use to bring us back into the present moment. I have found that paying attention to my breath slows me down in a positive way. When I “have a lot to do,” my breath becomes rapid, shallow and held, and then I feel anxious.
When I’m feeling anxious, I get up and change my environment. It can be as easy as getting up from my desk. If for some reason that is not possible, then I focus on slowing down and lengthening my breath. I put the devices away and feel my feet on the ground. I sit up tall and close my eyes. I take full, slow breaths, expanding on each inhale and emptying on each exhale. I rise and fall with my breath. I become intimate with my breathing, and I am able to let go of the pressures of time.
Magic lies here. I am no longer bound by time, if just for a moment.