Time without Meaning

Western understanding of time is that it is a commodity to be exchanged for money. Our entire system, including institutions, commerce, systems for governance and lifestyle, is based on our time-is-money definition. It creates an environment in which clock combat is king. We immerse ourselves in a pressure cooker and wonder why our heads and hearts hurt so badly.

A sign found in Jaipur, India.

A sign found in Jaipur, India.

Our preoccupation with time is further intensified through our alienation from the natural world. Who has time to dally about, reflect or pause? It is too costly, we argue. We can’t afford it.

But Nature and the time we spend with it is as essential as good nutrition. We are natural beings. We need Nature to remember who we are and why we are here. Our communion with the natural world has been forgotten. And yet it is as important as the air we breathe.

For the past few weeks I have been traveling about Nepal and now India, feeling at one with all things and wonder how I could feel so comfortable in a place so foreign to my usual surroundings.

And then, as I strolled through the desert amongst camels and nomads, it suddenly hit me. The people here mill about towns just as casually as the cows and dogs and monkeys that inhabit the places we have seen. The co-mingle, co-exist and co-inhabit with Nature. The food they eat is real food. It is Slow Food that actually doesn’t need capitalization. They don’t eat processed foods geared toward saving time in its preparation because time and nature are the same.

When we return next week, I hope to remember the lessons I have learned here and, to my very best ability, uphold the same understanding I have gained during my travels to these most exquisite places.

I am humbled by the experience. Blessings to you all.

The Basement Blues

Truth time: There is something about my basement that makes me incredibly sad. I am an unwilling partner in storage of the things housed there. At first glance, the items on the shelves and leaning against the walls are innocuous. My convertible’s hard top during the balmy months of spring and summer, a few ill-fitting helmets that roll around the floor every time I shift stuff from one point to another in the 5 square meter space, a pair of skis, holiday decor in a musty suitcase, empty boxes for kitchen gadgets I’ll never, ever resell in their original packaging, and a handful of boxed memories from years gone by.

Perhaps the cause for my sadness is the archived remembrance of a time in my life that didn’t work well. It is confronting to see my careless handwriting on the sides of those boxes, calling up emotions of despair and fragility. Or, further, it is perhaps the knowledge that over two decades of one’s life can be stored in a space so small.

I am not a materialistic person. In fact, when I moved into my beloved apartment after rebooting my life in a new city, I claimed that nothing — and no one — would enter my home whom I did not love. I would no longer hamster away hand-me-downs and unwanted gifts from well-meaning people. In an act of liberation, I would free myself of any material detritus whatsoever. I would live without compromise. I would look to what was working and stake my claim that everyone, including myself, would get what they needed. Well-being would be the center of my children’s and my own world.

At times I am extremely successful in that endeavor. Then something swoops through my universe to unsettle or rattle me to the core. I falter for a moment, stumbling forward in a blind fury toward that thing I promised myself when I got here. The dust settles then and the light returns just as sure as night follows day. I am alive. I am well. I am whole.

Memories are a part of my history and they inform who I am today. But I am not the memories themselves. They are like the boxes that get dusted off every now and again to give me perspective and occasion to reflect on what is good in my life.

My basement is indeed a sorrowful place. But it is just as much a part of me as the world I created above it. Maybe it’s good to have a place you can go to remember why you do what you do today.

Besides, today is truly the only day you can ever call your own.

 

 

Listening to the Whispers of Time

The Universe is an ever-expanding, timeless place. Yet we act as if time were real, measuring out our lives in coffee spoons as the late T.S. Eliot liked to say. We also act as if the things that happen have an infinite meaning, pressed in indelible ink on the pages of our life’s script. A negative comment, a weirdish interaction, a conflict with a co-worker — we often give too much weight to the one thing that is not working, instead of focusing on all the things that do.

Recently, I took a walk in the woods, as I often do, to sort out life’s complications. I began the journey by making a mental list of all the things that were going well. One-half hour into my walk, I realized I hadn’t stopped listing the good in my life. Why, then, do we spend 90% of our time on the 10% that is broken?

It has to do with our brains. We are hard-wired to focus on the threatening things — real or imagined — to secure our existence. If you were to believe the media today, you might even think that the world is about to end if we don’t pay attention to all the dangers lurking just beneath the surface of virtually everything with which we come into contact.

The premise of this blog — and my life’s work — is that it is possible to have a more positive relationship with the clock. But since time doesn’t really exist, we need to treat it as an imaginary friend who can still have a great deal of influence on how we do things. Every once in a while we need to do a time audit by looking at how we have spent the last year, for instance. Doing taxes is a fine exercise in revisiting the time we have spent and the things we have done within that framework. What made us happy (do more of that)? What made us cringe (avoid it, if possible)? Who entered our lives at the most amazing moment (say a prayer of gratitude)? Who left (and we were glad)? How do we wish to spend this year?

Listening to the whispers of time is instructive. Watching a child, plant or animal grow is a fine example of time’s sweet nothings pressed close to our ears. Seeing clients, friends or material items move beyond us illustrates the endless heartbeat of the Universe. Nothing ever stays the same.

So why on Earth should we?

 

A little bit can go a long way

My friend’s face loomed large on my iMac screen. She had forty minutes before her next appointment. It had been too long since we last spoke. And now, because I too had been ten minutes late, we had less time together than planned.

“How’s life?” I asked.

“Too fast,” she said.

She listed all the things she had to accomplish, in a vague, distracted way. It wasn’t clear to me why she was overwhelmed exactly. Yes, having two school kids and a part-time job can be stressful, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it herself. We talked about how fast life is in the US – how incredibly crushing it can be to go from one activity to the next. All the while trying to look good and perfect and sensible.

I shook my head with empathy.

“It’s exhausting. But somehow everyone is stressed out. It’s as if you aren’t a good person if you’re relaxed.” Her story isn’t the only one I have observed. Others from my circle of friends and family complain about how hard it is to keep pace. When asked what they are keeping pace with, I watch them turn their heads slightly, as if the air to their left will somehow give them the answer.

“I don’t know,” I hear over and over again.

Peer pressure. Societal pressure. Cultural demands. They all confront us with specific expectations. Most of us don’t even realize we are subjected to those subtle vices strapped tightly around our thumbs, those digits that are usually cradling a smartphone to help us gather more input than we could ever register.

How often do we ask ourselves: “What are we racing toward? Why are we checking our Facebook status — again? What is missing from my offline life that I need to get one online?”

I recently had a conversation about the differences between European and American expectations around vacation. In the Europe, it’s considered a human right. In the US, it’s considered an inconvenience. I even talked to one client who is getting married and is ‘dropping by the office’ on the way to his honeymoon. He is taking two weeks in Italy. But first, he’s going to check on that report.

Yikes.

I am all for personal responsibility, for giving our children a better life, and for doing an excellent job at work. But I also declare a new way of thinking about taking time off. That includes Friday night and weekends. A little bit can go a long way to keep us sane. Walking a balance beam requires skills, concentration and focus. But we need the strength to do that too.

How can we possibly remain strong when we never, ever let up?

 

Dipping into the Pool of Possibility

Would you rather hear what you can have versus what you can’t? Most of us respond better to positive reinforcement than to that ever-dangling carrot just out of reach.

Neuroscientists agree. In a recent study published in Social Neuroscience, researchers found that a more positive approach to coaching enhanced students’  ability to visualize their future. By asking students where they saw themselves in ten years (instead of having them focus on their immediate weaknesses and areas of improvement), the researchers found different areas of the volunteers’ brains lit up when scanned. The so-called “positive coaching” group showed brain activity in the following areas:

  • Visual processing — the area of the brain that is activated when imagining future events

  • Empathy and Emotional Safety

  • Global processing — the ability to see the Big Picture

  • Proactive approach to reaching goals rather than simply reacting to loss or fear

When we look at what’s wrong, instead of looking at what’s right, we get mired down in feelings of despair and dread. But when we shift our focus to what is working, our brains actually respond! We can literally change our entire world simply by taking a different perspective. It doesn’t change the facts, but it does change how we feel about them.

It’s like that with time too. If we think we don’t have enough, we’re right because time is actually relative — our sense of time is intimately interwoven with our moods and emotions. If we feel centered and in control of our schedule, we are empowered and more productive. We can accomplish things in quantifiably less time when we are less stressed and more focused.

So let’s concentrate on what’s right about our world instead of looking at what we don’t have. And that dangling carrot? Well, think of it as the driving force that keeps you moving forward, a beacon on your path to what’s next without losing sight of the beauty of where you are now.

P.S. Need to slow down? I just had a chat with Matt Townsend on his radio program about why we need Slow more than ever. Have a listen!

The Magic of Slow

Whoever says he or she loves meetings is lying. Meetings are boring and most people build an inner resistance toward them.

So when I was tasked with organizing and running a recent conference in Munich, I could feel that while everyone was really glad to convene and discuss the topic at hand, they also feared being plagued by hours of senseless blah, blah, blah.

“Let’s get this over with quickly,” one attendee said.

I smiled a slow smile.

“In my experience, slow is faster. Let us begin.”

What they thought (and quite honestly, I did too) would take five hours took exactly one. We completed our assignment with a great discussion.

Not a word was wasted, not a second spent on useless chatter.

The pace of the meeting felt right. As we delved into the topic, everyone paid attention. No one checked cell phones or dashed out of the room for even a moment.

And we all left grinning from ear to ear, feeling good about the work we did and the ideas we exchanged.

What’s the best way to run a conference? Walk it instead.

Slow — in a word —  is magic.

The Balance Between Boredom and Überbusy

“One day we’ll catch our breath, right?” I sighed into the phone as my friend listened intently.

“Face it, Christine. You’d be miserable if you were bored.”

She’s right. Being challenged is an integral part of my happiness. Sitting around and navel-gazing isn’t really my thing, although there are some days when I’d love to issue one-way tickets to the moon to some of the less reasonable clients in my life.

But then where would I be without the daily slog of emails, press releases, content creation and the ensuing joy of making people famous?

The answer? Most likely, I’d be somewhere much warmer, sipping something wonderful from a coconut.

Or would I be?

The state of überbusyness we find ourselves in has a lot to do with our 24/7 availability. It’s so easy to check in with international clients instead of getting those continuous eight hours of sleep. I have had to force myself to place my cell phone in another room — turned off — completely. Airplane mode doesn’t count, people.

And for what do we drive ourselves insane? Why do we need to know what our clients are thinking at 3 a.m. our time?

We do not.

We are often so fearful of being bored that we’d rather run on the hamster wheel for the sake of movement than actually slow down, sit still and listen.

In this insane worldview, to be in the know is somehow better. Even if you can’t do anything about it because every other sane person in your part of the globe is actually sleeping.

Admittedly, I wrote the principles I laid out in The Power of Slow four years ago to remind myself that there is more to life than getting things done. In fact, more often than not, in doing less we get more done. It’s about smart energy management infused with an unstoppable joy for simply being alive.

Just for fun, let’s list those principles here.

Ten Steps to the Power of Slow

  1. Reframe your definition of time. It does not equal money. It equals your existence.
  2. Multitasking is a myth. It has been scientifically proven that heavy multitasking does not make you more efficient.
  3. Examine your habits. Which serve you? Which do not?
  4. Just say ‘no’ with a smile. Remember: saying ‘no’ to others often means ‘yes’ to yourself.
  5. Slay the inner pig dog by leaving Procrastination Station for good.
  6. Take time for leisure activities that feed your soul. A well-rested worker is a productive one!
  7. Mini time-outs help sustain your energy level throughout the day. Take an occasional breather to regeneration your mind, body and soul.
  8. Manage expectations. Clear communication can save you a ton of time!
  9. Focus by eliminating distraction. Discover when you are at your most creative. Schedule your activities accordingly.
  10. Delegation is not dumping, but playing to others’ strengths so you can play to yours.

We all walk the balance beam between bored and busy. If you topple to one side or the other, that’s okay. Just remember that it is easier to cross the beam at a slow pace. Running won’t get you there nearly as fast.

 

A New Way to Look at Time

Travel is a great way to not only see the world, but to reflect on your own. Whenever I meet new people, my perspective shifts just ever so slightly, adding layers to my understanding of things.

It is the best education.

For years I valued the Teutonic view of time. It is a rigid understanding of minutes on the clock, of punctuality, of a no-nonsense view of the units that make up our day. The Teutonic view of time leaves no room for questions, for flexibility, or a fluidity that I have craved for more years than I realized. You be on time. Or else.

Gasp. Someone give me air!

Then one day, rather suddenly, I began to see the value in taking your time instead of always having to be on time. When we loosen the reins on our understanding of our schedules, it leaves room for the very creativity many of us have tried to foster all our lives. Of course, honoring others people’s time by being punctual is useful and helpful and wonderful. But there are also times when being late can’t be helped. And that’s okay too.

Today I was stuck in traffic due to a bike race through our town. I was going to be late, but it didn’t really matter. I had nothing to lose but my temper so why should I even lose that?

A dear friend of mine has a very Latin view of time. He says being slightly late is actually very freeing. So I tried it on for size today. And it felt good to be unshackled from the regiments of the clock, from the marching Germanic footsoldiers that clack to the rhythm of the second hand on my watch. I smiled as I slid into my driveway much later than planned.

So what? Time really is all we have. Why waste it being upset when you can enjoy the pockets of energy that get liberated when you ride easy in the harness?!

We will all get to where we need to be. On time or not. Dare to dance outside of time for just a little while. It will make you smile. I promise you that.

What a Waste of Time

Wasting time is something we all do every now and then. Idling about is not a bad thing, if it means you are taking a mini-time out. But wasting time can also be a sign that you are simply bored with your life, your job or your overall situation.

Salary.com just released its annual Wasting Time at Work survey. The results may not be suprising, but they are amusing nonetheless.

Remember to integrate play into your day ~every day. No one ever says they wished they had spent more time at work when that day comes for them to transition out of this world.

Have a good one, people.

Courtesy of Salary.com

 

The Wicked Winds of March

March can be a cruel month. The snow melts, the sun beams, the flowers peek their noses above the earth’s surface. And then, just when you least expect it, a snowstorm pelts you back into winter again.

Life can be like that too. Setbacks are a part of our existence, and yet they often send us reeling back to places we’d rather not be. Expectations go unfulfilled and we wonder what’s the sense of it all.

But if we slow down our pace to actually tune into what’s happening in the subtext of our lives, we will realize that what is happening is the very best thing for us in that moment.

Oh sure, we might wail, flail and flounce about wishing things were different (kind of like when you have your heart set on wearing that skimpy dress only to find out it’s subzero temperatures outside). But if we embrace everything that happens to us as the Universe cradling us in our very best interest, well, things don’t looks so bad after all.

I have to laugh out loud at the humor of the Universe. It places people in our path just when we need them. As one person told me last fall, you always find what you are looking for.

If you are looking to live life to the fullest, you’ll be sure to get that experience.

If you are looking to stay safe within the confines of the life you have built, you’ll get that.

If you are looking to break free from convention and really taste all that life has to offer, by golly! It’ll be on your plate in a snap.

We really are the masters of our own ships. We have more control than we realize. We can work with the clock to make every moment count and we can choose how we spend our days…and with whom.

If that cruel March wind has knocked you down, remember that warmer times are coming. Keep the fire in your heart burning and you will get back on track.

Joy can be yours for the asking even if the storm just won’t stop howling around your ears.