Friday, February 27, 2015

On Time Pressures

I have a cut-off, discordant relationship with time. I try to ignore it a lot of the time, but it seems to be slipping so fast from my fingers that I need to find a way to relate to it better. I am someone who resists schedules and planning, and some of it, I think, is related to removing a sense of reality, of getting disconnected from things so that they don't quite touch you so deeply.

It's a way of numbing myself.

Maybe you are nothing like me, maybe you are an expert at planning and scheduling. Maybe you need every moment accounted for, and just the thought of not sticking or following through a deadline stresses you out completely. Maybe over-scheduling is your way of tuning things out, of gaining a sense of control.

In her lovely book "The Not So Big Life," Sarah Susanka talks about people like us: "time obsessers" and "time resistors." We both need to relate to time in a better way, so that our lives can flow better. Susanka talks beautifully about going with the current, neither trying to obsessively control it nor resisting it. She says, "Think of leaves on the surface of a stream. They're floating along, carried by the current.

Some drift from one side to the other as the stream flows along, whereas others appear to be floating more or less down the central channel. If you follow one particular leaf with your eyes, however, you'll discover that a leaf that's moving fast at one minute will be aimlessly sidelined a few minutes later, and a leaf that is slow-moving at this minute will become speedy the next. 

Every leaf has its natural passage downstream, but if you were to try to write a script for each leaf and coordinate it with the scripts for all the other leaves, you would have a monumental task on your hands. If, in addition, you thought you were responsible for getting each leaf to its proper destination and if you believed that your not doing so would result in all the leaves bumping into one another and blocking their collective progress downstream, you'd be thinking like a typical micromanager, a "time obsesser."       

If, on the other hand, you believed that no leaf should be forced to flow if it didn't want to and that it was up to you to hold back the flow so that each leaf could exercise its free will, you'd be thinking like a "time resister." Neither approach is tenable. The river and the leaves will flow just the same, and all you'd be doing by obsessing or resisting would be burning yourself out."

I have a deep sense of what Susanka is saying here, and yet, I don't understand everything she means. I do know that the way we relate to time has to do, on some level, with our anxieties and what we are trying to control or get away from. We get so focused on this that we try to get away from the  nature of time. It will flow. The leaves will go down the path.

What Susanka points to is getting to a healthier place. We see that time is passing, and all we have is right now. So, for "time obsessers," the remedy is in letting go of some of the control. Things can happen even if we are not always making them happen. For time resisters, the remedy is also to do the opposite of what our personalities are comfortable with. It is to get still and not fight the limitations that time necessarily imposes on us. It is to give ourselves a schedule that we can easily meet. It is to learn the skills to plan and follow through.

Susanka says, "Burnout is the result of our conditioned patterns. Those who resist scheduling often find themselves just as burned out as their overscheduled counterparts. If you always blow deadlines, your challenge is to learn to meet deadlines. If you always make deadlines, your challenge is to learn to ask for more time when you need it."

When we are neither obsessing nor resisting, our minds can finally relax. We can feel more engaged with right now. And as Susanka reminds us, that's all there ever is, that "life is the experiencing of the experience."       

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