I recently agreed to take part in a lifestyle survey about how I spent my time over the course of an entire week, logging my daily activities in half-hourly increments throughout the day. Honestly? it drove me completely frickin’ nuts. Not least of all because the bloody app sent me constant reminders to log my movements, but because this Orwellian style checking up on me was creating massive amounts of anxiety and claustrophobia by counting and recording the moments of my life in such microscopic detail.
Every 30 minutes I was forced to choose from a list that best matched how I had just spent my time. Depressingly, I logged most of my 7 days ‘working’, ‘relaxing’ or ‘commuting’, and very little time engaged in ‘talking to other people’. It was a sad, sobering state of affairs, and certainly didn’t give a true account of how I felt I spent my time (There was no option for ‘deep in contemplative reflection’).
It got me thinking though, about time, about how we spend it, and about the very point of ‘time’ itself (see, I told you I was deep in contemplative reflection).
It got me thinking about Mitch Albom. Mitch is one of my very favourite authors. He’s written some amazing thought-provoking and tear-inducing books, and the last one I read was a tale titled ‘The Time Keeper’. In this story our protagonist is the man who invented time, that is to say, he is the person who started measuring time. He who counted the path of the sun and the moon, and the days and the years and put words to them; these minutes, and seconds, these tiny little heartbeats ticking away.
In this novel, our hero (of sorts) is obsessed with time, and becomes infatuated with capturing and recording it; so much so that he misses the truly important moments in life and (*SPOILER ALERT*) winds up being punished by God for starting a journey that has led to modern-day man being completely consumed by this thing called ‘time’.
Although not my favourite of his works, the underlying premise of the book has really always stuck with me. That when we obsess over the passage of time, we miss the moment we are in.
Our lives are a series of milestones, and we set so much store by whether we have achieved this task or that accolade by a certain marker in our lives. Time is the thing which constantly forces us to evaluate our achievements and measure our abilities against others, and theirs, to pin-point how far along we are on this tick-tock journey of life, but to what end?
A colleague of mine once spoke to me with passion about a trip she took to Africa, about the freedom and enjoyment she got from savouring and experiencing every minute rather than getting bogged down in what else she ’should’ have been doing. she said she found it difficult to come back to work after that, that she just simply looked around her, at this ridiculous world of admin we have created for ourselves, and felt deflated. She didn’t want to log time, she wanted to be IN it.
Last night I lay awake in bed watching the moon through a crack in my blinds. The clouds, bruised inky-blue, rolled past, intermittently blocking its glow, creating a rhythmic, measured pulse of light. I couldn’t sleep, so I counted how many hours it would be until I had to get up for work, checked my alarm was set, checked the train times…worried about buses, and whether I had time to buy coffee before the specified hour that my work-day commenced.
It seemed absurd, as I lay there watching the entire universe stroll by. The moon blinded me for a moment. I closed my eyes but it was still imprinted there in my eyelids. I silently cursed Mitch’s leading man for thrusting this in my face, for forcing me to confront and count my own heartbeat, to be accountable to a higher power called ‘time’ whose only quality appeared to be the omnipresent and infuriating ability to map the ageing of my mind and body.
You’ve probably heard of the term ‘Mindfulness’, in all likelihood as a bit of a recent buzz word to be fair, and maybe you think it’s a fad, but there’s some sense there at the very crux of it. Despite numerous fancy-pants articles spouting lyrical about this new trend, Mindfulness has actually been around in some form for thousands of years, being grounded in the ancient practices of Buddhist Meditation.
At its simplest, Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by learning how to be present and focussed in the moment, accepting every moment and the accompanying thoughts and bodily sensations for what they are, without passing judgement.
By training our thoughts to be fully present in each instant, responding with openness and curiosity- not criticism – we can garner a greater appreciation of our experiences, better handle our emotions, and in turn, become less anxious. We may not always feel that we have total control over all aspect of our lives, but with mindfulness techniques, we can switch off that niggling, negative voice in the back of our minds that casts judgements, and let our worries go. Indeed, the science is all there to back it up, and Mindfulness is used as a credible, and effective therapy for alleviating stress, anxiety, and depression; and even to combat drug addictions and to experience physical pain less intensely.
For really, How can you be late to, or miss out on to the presence of your own existence? It seems almost obvious, but if we can successfully tap into how to put our worries aside, we can obsess less about ‘time’ passing by, about how we spend it, and stop frantically trying to catch it as it falls through our fingers like grains of sand. Perhaps then, we might just enjoy our existence a whole lot more than the cursed man in Albom’s tale.
I must say, and certainly this blog is testament to the fact, that I try damn hard to be present in my life events and not to get too bogged down in the small stuff, and by rights, I quite often succeed-savouring and accepting these amazing moments for what they are-sweet, unique, and fleeting. But sometimes it’s just not so easy to do that, especially when you sign up to a crappy survey that requires you to log (and therefore judge) every instant your life, lured in by the promise of Amazon vouchers (which still haven’t arrived, by the way). At times like these (pun intended) it’s easy to become that solitary obsessed man in the book.
So today when I get up for work, I remember that the survey is over, leave my watch at home, and put my phone deep in my pocket on silent. I pay attention to the way the key turns a crunch in the lock as I leave my front door, not considering, just noting. I feel the way the spring breeze touches my cheeks as I step outside, and I walk to the train station not asking how long it will take, but instead, focussing on the fact that it is raining, and watching how the water droplets fall and cascade in particles all around me. I am completely open to these moments, but most importantly, I am a part of them. And so, I make that conscious mindful decision that, despite these next 24 hours consisting mainly of ‘working’, ‘commuting’, and ‘relaxing’, that now is just as good a time as any to stop worrying about time, and simply enjoy it the way that good old Mitch would want me to.