Physician and Omega cofounder, Stephan Rechtschaffen, says you can relieve the feeling of always being pressed for time -- even in the face of the longest to-do list -- by dropping the fight and savoring the present moment.
When I teach about time, I begin each group by asking, "Do you have enough time in your everyday life?" Invariably only a few hands rise, frequently only those who have already retired though often when asked how they feel about having this time, there's an expression of anxiety, guilt, or sadness.
In today's culture we're defined by what we do and how productive we are. Stripped of this we can feel lost and purposeless. We've become human doings instead of human beings. Regaining our joy and purpose in life requires a new relationship with time.
Everything in life has become scheduled -- our work, family time, social responsibilities, everyday chores, and even when we play. Having more time is something we all want, but when it shows up unannounced, we fill it with our "to do" list or feel anxious about having it, rather than luxuriating in a little "free" time.
How do you feel when stuck in a traffic jam or waiting at the doctor's office an extra 30 minutes? Life inevitably gives us these moments, yet instead of relaxing and enjoying the pause in our busy life, we complain and get upset or anxious. I don't drive around looking for traffic, but changing the modern relationship of fighting against time to relaxing into and enjoying it requires that we learn to savor the "pause."
As a consultant and physician, I teach programs about time and longevity -- both topics that gain greater interest as we age. Yet, no matter how well and healthy we live, the consistent experience for all who've been born is that life is a limited time event.
No one's last words reveal their desire to have spent more time at the office. What has meaning in life is not the quantity of our time rather its quality and doing what matters most to us. What are you doing with your day? How are you spending your time, especially knowing this very moment will never come again?
Our busyness is like learning to juggle three balls and then mastering four or five balls. Once accomplished, what's the reward? A sixth ball. There's no end to the number of these balls in life and it's no problem throwing them up into the air -- the stress is keeping them all up at once.
Now is all that exists. Cultivating a greater awareness of the present moment is the first step toward greater relaxation and appreciation of our lives. Without this capacity we're continually feeling stressed about something that's not turning out the way we want it.
Stress is a reaction and thus ultimately we have the ability to release it. Stress is simply our resistance to what's so in this present moment. All of our stress relates to wanting things to be different than they are right now.
The good news is that there is a simple antidote and relearning it is easy. It just requires changing our habits in how we relate to time.
Finding balance in life is similar to riding a 20-speed bicycle. True success, deep satisfaction, and longevity are promoted by learning to shift gears to find the best rhythm for each moment. Whether riding up a steep hill, down an incline, or along a winding trail, one can shift into a gear and pedal with ease. Life is a marathon. Continually running like a dash at full speed is what leads to the heart attacks often associated with the stressful Type A personality, and thus dying before the finish line.
Learning to switch gears lets us show up differently and more appropriately in each moment. The most frequent time when couples argue is when one of them arrives home from work. Being in different rhythms causes friction and in the end it's why negotiations break down or relationships end. Yet we all know the feeling of "being in the flow," whether in sports, conversation, work, or even strolling down the street. This can be learned and become more frequent in our lives. These moments of grace reenergize our often depleted internal batteries.
There are a few time shifters that can dramatically change your relationship to time and yourself, thus creating more joy and freedom in your life.
1. Become a master of the pause -- whether saying grace before a meal or taking a few quiet unrushed breaths before a meeting or phone call. Find pause breaks during your day to reset to a relaxed rhythm. Listen to some classical or peaceful music. Learn to shift your rhythm instead of being caught in high speed all the time.
2. Take time for yourself. We prioritize all our responsibilities with very little time left over for us. Make it a daily routine to have time for something you enjoy with no productivity attached to it. Simply find something that "lights you up" and makes you feel good. And if nothing comes to mind, practice slowing down until you find it.
3. Turn off your electronic devices for an hour when having a meal or spending time with family, or simply for some quiet time with yourself and whatever moves you in the moment.
4. Schedule spontaneous time. You know the wonderful feeling of a "snow day"? You can create one. Leave the office at midday with no plans and just explore.
5. Try yoga or meditation to find balance in the frenetic pace. Go sailing, or to the opera, or take a walk in the woods. These are investments in yourself that reenergize you and create a healthy and vital longevity.
This article originally appeared in THE JOURNAL, AARP's global thought leadership publication, titled "What Are You Doing With Your Time?" It is reposted with permission.
© 2013 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, Inc. All rights reserved.
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