"Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away."
- Marcus Aurelius
There's an aspect of time that's vast. It's a 'river' that carries us through each moment, flowing at a pace that seems impossible to control. We may try to capture the current of time - to trap it in an hourglass, to pour it into calendars and schedules, to measure it in milliseconds; but the river of time will not be contained. It always overflows the dams we build, and spills itself into the future. Yet despite the fact that we're immersed in it, there's still a perception of scarcity. There's 'never enough time' to get to all of the things that need to be done, is there?
There are hundreds of books and courses on 'Time Management' that offer to teach you how to increase your effectiveness or schedule your time for maximum impact. What is time and can it really be managed? Some see time as a universal structure, something measurable that we perceive and experience. Others view it as a human construct, and intellectual structure that cannot be measured or traveled through. According to philosopher, Immanuel Kant, "Space and time are the framework within which the mind is constrained to construct its experience of reality.” It makes me wonder if time is real or only a perception.
This past couple months, I've been reflecting on my experience of time. Whether or not it's real or tangible, I rely on the external structure of time as a measurement. It helps me coordinate activities with others and clarify expectations about when I'll do certain things. This is useful. It translates easily into timepieces and appointments on calendars. However, there's also an internal element of time, which isn't as easy to measure. It's the experience I have of time - how I feel it in my body and mind. If I'm listening to someone lecture about something boring, time slows down. If I'm under a tight deadline at work, time speeds up. When I'm excited about a trip that I'm leaving for in a few weeks, the days double in length. When my 'to-do list' gets overwhelming, time runs past me, laughing and waving. It leaves me breathless trying to keep up!
My experience of time is similar to others I've talked to. It seems difficult to hold onto the joyous moments; they shine like shooting stars and then disappear into memory. It often feels challenging to me to make time for all of the things that I want to do, when it seems like there is barely enough time to finish what I need to do. But what if I could change my relationship with time? How can I shift my experience of time, so that the beautiful moments last longer? The way to change your experience of time is to be present! Simple, right? It's not. Presence takes practice. It's impossible (at least for me and most people I know) to be fully present in each moment of my life, but I've learned Tantric practices that change how I 'feel' time by connecting me with my body. These practices create a sense of internal expansion which opens up more space and time within me; this expansion creates more time for me and to share with others.
On a side note...as I learn to dance differently with time, it can be tempting to fast-forward through the songs I don't like. Part of me would like to accelerate through those moments that are painful, or even just boring. I'm learning to slow dance in those moments too. Experience has taught me that each moment is precious, and that there's something to savor in moments of grief or discomfort. The richness of these moments is just another texture, and my ability to feel them deeply makes me feel more alive.
In practical terms, I haven't stopped measuring my time. I still live in minutes, days, and hours; but I've stopped wrestling (as much) with the hands of time. Does that mean I'm less productive? Quite the opposite! I'm a mother, writer, project manager, life coach, friend, mountain climber, Tantra teacher and student. People often ask me 'where do you find the time?'. My usual comeback is that I pull it out of my ass when I need to, but the truth is that there' s nothing to find. I carry time within me. (So essentially, I do pull it out of my ass!) I choose where to focus my energy in each moment, which means there's always enough time to do whatever is most important to me.
I'm not suggesting that you throw away your timepieces and your calendars, although leaving them behind on a weekend retreat can be especially blissful. However, I am suggesting that you create more space in your schedule. If you're someone who has every moment of your life scheduled, I'm going to invite you to ask yourself why that's so. In fact, you should probably skip the rest of this article to reflect on that, and come back and read this again when you have an unscheduled moment! When you do have downtime (which we all need), resist the urge to pull out the 'to do list'. You already know what's on it - you wrote it! Instead of focusing on being productive, let the wisdom of your body guide you to what truly needs to be done. It may be something on your to do list, or it may be a walk through a nearby park.
I also recommend that you take time to reconnect with your body. It doesn't understand time in the same way that your mind does, but it does understand your natural rhythms, your internal clock. As you heal your relationship with your body, you also heal your relationship with time. When your relationship with time is in balance, you're no longer swept away by the river. The current no longer carries you swiftly toward some destination in the future, because you are the destination.
How do you experience time inside your body? Does your relationship with time feel healthy? How can you shift your relationship with time so that you aren't struggling to swim against the current?