Some years ago I had the privilege of speaking to 100 Adventist School Principals from all around the Pacific.
As I listened to Barry, one of the first speakers, say ‘Neglect yourself emotionally and you become toxic’, I had to agree. It led neatly to one the topics I was about to speak to them about – what I call Sanity Gaps – the piece that’s missing from the lives of people who burn out. (And that used to be me in years gone by, which is why I’m so passionate about the whole subject of time choices.)
In preparation for my session with the principals, just north of Brisbane, I’d re-read a great book, and I highly recommend it – Stephan Rechtschaffen’s ‘Time Shifting’, Rider, 1996. Stephan talks a lot about the rhythm of society and how we have to break the ‘entrainment’ of everyday happenings in order to reconnect with ourselves, to give our neurology time to process and integrate information, and to allow our spirit space to flourish.
Something said by a lady in a public course in Auckland the week before had also framed this.
Wistfully she’d said, ‘When the children were at home we were busy, but we seemed to have time to enjoy life. Now they’re gone, there’s only my husband and I at home, we’ve got all the mod cons that are supposed to save time, and yet we feel as if we never catch up – there’s just too much to do and not enough hours in which to do it. Why is that?’
It seems to me that society’s got the speed wobbles, and each of us has a responsibility to not allow it to happen, at least to ourselves. And as we take control of our own situation, that in turn has a ripple effect on society. Each action means something on the wider platform of life.
Here are six strategies I shared with my Adventist friends. If you’re feeling that life has become too fast for you, you might also like to try them.
1. Be present in the moment
Mindful attention lets life pour in. Develop true awareness of what’s going on around you, instead of always thinking about the past and worrying about the future (even a future of the next 30 minutes). Empty yourself of busyness. Take a minute and just look deeply at a flower, a tree, a leaf, or maybe the sunset. Don’t think about anything else.
Even just sitting with your eyes shut for one whole minute – noticing your body, your environment, how the chair under you feels, listening to the sounds around – is powerful. I had the principals do it – the look of bliss on some of their faces was beautiful to behold.
2. Boundaried time
Chunk out an hour a day, (if possible, but even 30 minutes is better than nothing) to do with as you wish.
This is a powerful sanity gap – puts the juice back in the tank! Most people will create this by getting up an hour earlier (it’s the time of day I do my best creative work, and why I’ve been so productive with my writing over the last few years.)
It’s not a chance to get a jumpstart on the emails, or the day’s work. You may choose to read, exercise, meditate, pray, potter in the garden, do something creative, or nothing – it’s your choice, your gift to yourself – by yourself.
3. Spontaneous time
Another speech attendee some years ago shared a great strategy. Every six weeks or so, the family had a ‘free weekend’. Anything that needed doing before the beginning of the following week (such as food shopping) was handled on the Thursday night. Then, on Friday night after they’d all arrived home from work or school (it worked when their children were at home as well as after they’d left the nest), they went into ‘spontaneous time’.
‘What shall we do this weekend?’ was the question.
Sometimes they’d stay home and just chill out – no work, no duties or obligations. Other times they’d get in the car and just drive, stopping when they felt like it, staying overnight if they wanted to. She said it was a most freeing experience.
Some people would think that was too organised. Others might say that every weekend should be like that. (They haven’t got school age children if they say such a thing, I’m sure all the parents reading this will agree!) The reality is, time slides by unmarked, or crowded with ‘busy stuff’, if we don’t put some structure around it.
This lady highlighted a profound principle – out of structure and planning comes freedom.
4. Honour the mundane
Many of us begrudge doing mundane tasks like the dishes and housework. Instead of doing it with your attention everywhere else, and wishing you could get it done faster, focus on the task, do it to perfection, and enjoy the physical experience.
For instance, doing dishes is a chance to be grateful for the food, to send loving thoughts to the loved ones you’ve cooked for (if it was a shared meal), to be thankful for the hundreds (if not thousands) of people whose labour has contributed to the ingredients arriving safely in your kitchen, and even the hot water to get the job done quickly. (Millions of people around the world barely have plates to eat off, let alone nice crockery and hot water to clean them).
5. Create rituals
This could be thanks or grace before a meal; 10 or 15 minutes with your loved one when you both get home, and before you get into the night’s routines. It’s anything that puts a framework around a parcel of time.
6. Monitor your language
How many times do you hear yourself say, ‘I’m so busy’, or ‘I’m out of time’, or ‘There’s never enough hours in the day’?
Change your language. This kind of statement only locks you into more of the same. I’ve now started saying, ‘I’m as busy as I want to be’, rather than ‘I’m so busy’ or ‘too busy’. Why should being too busy be a badge of honour? Wrong honour, it seems to me! And who else cares anyway!
All or any of these techniques will help you break the frenetic rhythm that so much of life seems to consist of these days.
And to put a final spin on it, following is a snippet I read in a book about the slave abolitionist movement of America – ‘Beyond the River – the untold story of the heroes of the Underground Railroad’ by Ann Hagedorn. The incident took place in 1817.
“It took the Rankins fifteen days to travel from Dandridge, Tennessee, to Lexington, Kentucky – a distance of two hundred miles. The uneven terrain often forced them to walk, with Rankin leading the horse, and his wife carrying their young boy. ….. Once, the carriage tumbled down an abrupt two-foot drop, and the axle broke. With a steep mountain road behind them, Rankin chose to ride ahead in search of a blacksmith, carrying the broken axle and riding bareback for fifteen miles. Jean and the baby waited on the side of road in the dark until the early hours of the morning, when Rankin finally returned.”
You might like to reflect, as you drive along today’s comfortable modern roads, that in 1817 it would often take a day to go 10 or 15 miles. And yet we never read of them bemoaning the lack of time!
There is enough time to do the things that really matter; there is plenty of it. It’s all in the choices, in what we put first. Let’s get off the speed trap and control our perceptions, language and behaviour around time, instead of other peoples’ rhythms controlling us.