Among all the substances we misuse and abuse, the greatest is time. Time is life; we squander it at our peril. Killing time deadens ourselves.
Almost everyone I encounter complains that they don't have enough. But where did it all go? Why aren't our labor-saving devices and faster means of travel and communication liberating us? Or at the very least, providing us with more leisure to accomplish the things that we want and need to do, or letting us simply slow down and enjoy what we've worked so hard for?
Does anyone have time today? I do! During the 40 years I've spent studying and teaching Buddhism, and in the process of writing my new book, "Buddha Standard Time: Awakening to the Infinite Possibilities of Now," I've learned how to find, make, and keep time.
Actually, it's not time we lack; it's focus, awareness and a sense of priorities. We must change the space of the pace -- wake ourselves up by shifting to another way of being. We have all the time in the world. It's up to us to choose how to use it.
Create Some Space in the Pace
Re-mindfulness -- remembering to remember, being mindful, returning to the moment, not living in the past or future -- is the core of the Buddha's path to awakening and enlightenment. This doesn't mean being narcissistic or regressing to a teenager's self-conscious whine of "What about me?" But rather recollecting ourselves and staying constantly aware of what we're really doing right this minute.
Time-sickness is rampant today. People say they want to slow down and live more naturally and in a healthy and sane manner, but who knows how to actually do so, has time-medicine available, and is also ready, willing, and able? "Buddha Standard Time" offers a potent dose of tools and techniques, tips and pointers to heal this affliction. Awareness is the essential ingredient in this great journey, delivering to us the bigger picture as well as minute details along the way.
Catch Yourself Before Things Catch You
Annie Dillard wrote, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." The choice is yours. You can learn to catch yourself before things catch and entangle you. Try to apply remindfulness -- intentional and nonjudgmental consideration -- to everything you do, say, and think, before you blindly react.
In other words, pause and consider. Do you really want to play another game of Angry Birds, or would you rather giggle with your children for five minutes? Watch a rerun of a television program that wasn't that great the first time, or spend half an hour meditating? Bury your head in the Internet, or put it on the pillow and get a good night's sleep? With a mere moment of lucid attention we can increase the quality of each minute, each hour, and ultimately our lives.
Sometimes it only takes a simple re-framing of our mental outlook to change our lives. I remember discovering that I could consciously and intentionally turn the interruptive chore of walking the dog twice a day into my time, and it became the best hour of my day. My loyal blond canine companion, Lili, taught me to re-frame dog walking as meditation. I could be with nature; befriend the world, my neighbors, and myself; develop a more inclusive attitude; and even get a little exercise. All it required was a small adjustment in consciousness and perspective. I call this conscious re-framing. It's easy, free and extraordinarily rewarding.
Mindful Anger Management
Learn to utilize what I call a "wedge of awareness." Impose your consciousness between thoughts, words, and actions -- outer stimuli -- and your inner reaction. If someone cuts you off in traffic, consciously stop and let it go; don't cling to rage as you drive and allow someone else's action to steal your time. This simple practice of equanimous detachment -- it's like returning to the breath again, again and yet again in meditation -- can be extremely helpful because it liberates us from regret, anger and guilt and ultimately frees our time. It is the heart of what I call mindful anger management and can be applied to emotional processing of any kind.
Does it deserve my time?
A simple question, but asking it will help you convert time wasted into time well spent. Why don't we save and invest time as carefully as we do money, since it's far more valuable and irreplaceable? Instead we often let time slip away. We squander, waste and kill it. We would all do well to consider the balance between our actual needs and mere greed and indulgence. How often do we say yes to something we don't mean? Say yes to yourself instead, by gently saying no to unreasonable demands and expectations.
Time is what we make of it. Our time is our own. Does watching TV or surfing the net for hours on end really make us happier or better people? We live in the over-information age, but knowing the world and others is mere knowledge; knowing oneself is wisdom. Let's look and inquire deeper.
Take the Time to Make the Time
I find that I can have all the time in the world if and when I focus and pay attention to what is most important and actually needs to be done, and maintain heightened present awareness in the course of what the Buddhists call right work. So when people ask me, I generally advise them to take time to make time for their best selves and their genuine values and priorities. Intention is everything: intend to attend. Be where you are and not where you ain't -- dwelling on the past and future.
Time is an excellent servant but a poor master; you have to take time to make time, by intentionally creating some space in the pace. It's now or never, as always. Who can afford to wait? Better to wake up to our lives, by thoroughly and uninhibitedly engaging in what we're doing right now, mindful of our words, thoughts and deeds.
Living intentionally with conscious awareness can be hard, but it's a good hard, although reverting to habit is so much easier. It's helpful to practice remembering to remember, to recall what you're doing while you are actually doing it. Take a breath break to fresh your present awareness, come back home to the present moment and start again -- awake, lucid, focused, calm and energized.
Using these nowness-awareness techniques has helped me to awaken and find myself in the sacred zone of Buddha Standard Time, the holy now, more and more each day. They can help you too, right now. Who can afford to wait?
Lama Surya Das is the author of the recent "Buddha Standard Time: Awakening to the Infinite Possibilities of Now" (HarperOne, May, 2011), as well as the bestselling "Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World," and 10 other books.