Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Where Do I Go to Exchange the Gift of Time?

I have had a shaky relationship with time for as far back as I can remember.  I get the basic math of it.  60 seconds in a minute.  60 minutes in an hour.  24 hours in a day.  7 days... and so on.  But for some reason, I am always running out of time.  

A funny expression, when you think about it. As if time were something you could zip over to the neighbors and borrow a cup of.  

When you come right down to it, a funny concept, really.  Why did we think it would be a good idea to measure and apportion our experience, to mark the movement from one moment to the next?  And why are some of us so bad at it?

When I was in college, I went through a phase of refusing to wear a watch.  I believed that strapping time to my wrist would transform me into some kind of automaton.  I was often late to classes and appointments, and I frequently annoyed strangers by parasitically requesting "the time."  Another strange notion, and figure of speech--"do you have the time?"  

As a mature adult, I am surrounded by "the time."  At least one clock in every room of my home, except the bathrooms.  A clock in each car.  A clock on my phones, both landline equipment and cell.  Clocks on my oven and microwave.  A clock on my blood pressure monitor.  A clock on my laptop.  And, of course, the watch I remove only to shower, whose tyranny is nearly constant.  Most of these timepieces maintain their very own version of "the" time, so that I am left to guess which tells the "right" time, i.e., the time that corresponds to the one those expecting me at a certain hour are relying on.

And then there's the difficulty I have in recognizing the limited nature of time.  Clearly, I hold, it is reasonable to plan to shower; dress; finish the dishes; medicate myself, the dog, and one offspring; dash off a few emails; conduct a last-ditch search for relevant notes; call my cell phone so it can tell me where it's hiding; climb into enough outerwear to brave a Midwest winter morning; find my keys; jump into a car left on fumes in the driveway; plow through several inches of snow to the street; stop for gas; contend with traffic slowed by self-same weather events; and make it to a meeting location which is, in the best of times, 20 minutes away--and all in the 25 minutes I allot!  This is the way I typically operate these days.  In between such periods, I stop scheduling outside commitments and stop trying to squeeze much of anything into the 24 hours which are apparently all we are supposed to expect in a day.  These times of shutdown, I guess, could be seen as restorative.

My fractured sense of time, on closer examination, is perhaps a byproduct of my inability to choose, and to prioritize.  Not sure what really has to get done?  No problem.  Just do it all!  Or try to.  And run like a greyhound after a fake rabbit in the process.  Even meditate by putting it on a list, cramming it in between two manic activities, and checking it off.  And when that full-tilt approach isn't working, or the price in mood and energy and dropped balls skyrockets, give up!  Don't do (much of) anything!

Of course, there's a diagnostic category for this type of behavior, one that was applied to my father, which thus I stand to inherit.  But then, there's a diagnostic category for virtually all human variability these days.  I resist these labels for the most part, though I try to learn what I can from their proponents about managing my more troublesome tendencies.  For most such difficulties, I am inclined to believe that the "answer" lies along Buddha's Middle Path.  I aspire to balance, and to equanimity.

Having written this, I will try to do what I can to restore some air in my agenda for today.  Time to breathe.

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