“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” – Dr. Seuss
I regularly feel challenged by time. I want more time to do everything I want to do, learn the things I want to learn, be with my friends and family, and just relax once in a while. Yet time holds me prisoner in its unstoppable progression.
Ultimately, what is most stressful about life is our relationship with time. Modern life is a multitasked existence. In our pursuit of productivity, we have perfected the art of constant partial attention such that our enjoyment of the things we do is equally fragmented. Spending time with friends, we think about work. Working, we wish we had more time to spend with friends. Though we may speak on the phone, read an email, and eat at the same time, we have not tripled our efficiency as much as diminished the quality of each experience.
If time holds us captive, it simultaneously offers the key to our liberation. Our shackles belong to the past and the future. In the present moment there is no past or future that is not contingent upon our attention to exist. Learning to manage our attention is the best way to manage our relationship with time.
Quality of life is proportional to the quality of our attention. Presence is focused attention on the current moment. It’s a choice and a practice. We choose to be present with our work, our friends, and our families. Then we practice and practice and practice.
In my own experience, this practice has been training myself to give attention to one thing at a time and being fully attentive when I’m having a conversation. I try to catch myself and breathe deeply whenever I feel my mind wander. In the pursuit of building a better relationship with my mind, I’ve found meditation, exercise, and diet to be the three pillars of progress. The key ingredient, though, is a continuing commitment to myself to be present.
Presence doesn’t make our schedule any less hectic. It does, however, change our relationship with time. Each moment becomes more satisfying, less consumed with worrying about what’s next. Time begins to revolve around our attention, instead of our attention revolving around time. That shift is the difference between freedom and bondage. It is the freedom to live life on our own terms, taking the time to do what’s important to us. It is the freedom to experience each moment fully, our attention undiminished by thoughts of elsewhere.
There is no magic analgesic that will grant us presence and mental acuity. Building a relationship with the mind takes work. Being present is a commitment to our own humanity. We exist to participate in life, not stress it’s future nor lament it’s past. Time only gives us one chance to experience the beauty in each moment. Now.