What did you do today that will set you up for a better tomorrow? In fact, a better question, what did you do in general that you will remember tomorrow? I remember standing at the Brugge train station awaiting our train thinking to myself, “I’d like to capture a moving train in one of those cool blur photos I always see.” I took the photo, reviewed the photo, and continued to wait for my train.
That was three weeks ago. This train, like our lives and the last three weeks, is a blur at times and we seem unable to flip a switch and simply slow things down. Even the moments of pure boredom, upon reflection, fly by. Pedram Shojai’s The Urban Monk covers the idea of time in a chapter called Drinking From Infinity: The Art of Mastering Time. He voices the ever-present fear we carry around about rest not being acceptable in today’s culture. I’d add that we are also uncomfortable with the idea of rest. Stillness and silence are not activities we are accustomed to hanging on too. The train station, when no trains are passing, is a rather quiet place up on the platform. People casually pass by, their conversations feeling silent in a foreign language that is quickly tuned out. There is no phone chatter because well there is no phone. It’s in my bag, without data, and therefore not easily accessed to pass the time.
Pedram considers our obsession with productivity:
“Productivity is everything. Given no time to recover, we try to jam more things into our days as we stretch them to impossible timelines and are constantly stressed about being late and not having enough time to get it all done. … If You can’t relax and enjoy the present moment, you’re in big trouble. Most people defer things in time so often that they will never stand a chance of catching up.”
It catches me all the time, especially at work. The list of things needed to be done grows exponentially some days and we have no choice but to be absorbed in our own productivity. It’s not a bad thing. In fact productivity, when implemented with thoughtfulness and respect for our own free time, is critical for creating more space in our lives. The key is finding that space. Productivity, or our perception of it, can lead to the life of a zombie and like the train above, it passes by with only a blurry image to hold on too.
TV used to be one of my biggest escapes along with video games that could run me late into the night without even phasing me. Our brain can so quickly latch on to these things. Thankfully I’ve come a long way by making the decision to push TV out of my life. Now it’s controlled to a few shows either on Netflix or PVR so that even the ads can be avoided.
What is really interesting is my own feelings, even today, regarding silence and stillness. Take the opportunity one of these days to simply sit down in a comfortable chair or lie down in bed and rest there awake with no distractions. That feeling creeps into all of us. Anxiety over not having something to do or not finishing a task that needs to be done. Sit in that discomfort for a few moments and see the types of thoughts that come up. There really is nothing more to it than noticing the thoughts, taking note, and letting them pass. What kind of stories tend to come over you? What do you tell yourself in these times of stillness?
I’m either thinking about what I need to do next, or not unlike meditation, allowing random storylines to carry me away. If it’s not the storylines it can become the anxiety of stillness. Meditation practice however, has allowed me to begin to dissect these thoughts and cleanly separate myself from at times. The storylines that drag us down, upon awakening to our own awareness, don’t have the same bite as they once did. The anxiety we feel becomes slowly dulled and the pull fades away.
At the time of sitting down and writing this the baseball playoffs are on and easily something that would take up my whole night. Did I enjoy it? Sure. It can be exciting to watch but was it something that I truly needed? Not really. I can go into work tomorrow and look up the score and chat with coworkers about it and not be fussed about missing it. In fact that time was spent writing this and editing photos in silence. Listening to myself think and type away on the keyboard.
Consider some of the small things that you allow to take over large amounts of time. How about the list of shows you may record or watch to escape. Are there any that if you really thought about it could walk away from would be that horrible? Or consider picking a few shows and recording them. Watch one at night and then turn off the TV not allowing the dullness to suck you in to mindlessly watching.
We have but moments on this planet in any sort of reasonable scale and ultimately we don’t want to be left looking back at our lives thinking about the amount of time we lost. Regretting the things that we could have done but didn’t because we allowed time to escape our grasp.
The train passes by suddenly, like time, and yet I was aware and ready to take the photo. Ready to look at time in that moment and simply enjoy it passing. Nothing else to distract me. Pedram provides many interesting types of meditations and modern-day hacks to wrestle our awareness to time back and I’ll leave you with this one last quote:
“To remain still means to move with time, to move with the Universe. Stillness is actually the state of moving with the Universe in unison.”