I think about time a lot. For the past few years I have been especially fascinated by the concept of time. Clock time has not been friendly to me, I will admit. For much of my life I have felt pressured and constrained by the modern concept of time. Oddly enough, going to law school was the beginning of the change in my perspective regarding time.
The reason I find it odd that law school helped free me from the constraints of time as I previously knew it is because law school is an extremely pressure filled experience. There are deadlines, overwhelming amounts of incredibly difficult study and research, and classroom attendance is mandatory. The way the system is set up is brilliant though if you ask me. A law student must show up to class and if he/she is wise, will take a lot of notes. How well that student does at the end of the semester is based on only one thing, performance on the final exam. Being prepared for class each day has no impact on grades. So it’s possible to put off studying until right before an exam. It’s not a very good idea, but it can be done.
In law school you see every kind of time management and personality type. There are those who will never feel prepared no matter how much time they spend studying and will cease living in favor of spending all their time in the library. Later on those are probably the people who never see their families because they’re at work all the time. There are also those who view law school as an extension of their undergrad party life, the ones who rely heavily on commercial outlines and cram it all in right before class or exams.
My experience was trying to find balance. Law school was an extremely social experience for me. I was involved in a lot of things, went to lots of parties with friends, volunteered for things that mattered to me, and found my way to most of the networking and social events. I made several lifelong friends during that experience. And I still managed to graduate with respectable grades and without falling into the bottom half of the class.
My point about law school is that there are a certain amount of things to be done in a certain time frame. How you do that is up to you and your own individual relationship with time. There is a spaciousness in the world of law that is obscured by court deadlines and billable hours requirements. This is where the law and I sort of clash.
Certain cultures are said to view time differently than others. Whether it’s embedded in DNA, I do not know. However, I am Native American and I can definitely say time has always felt different to me to the point where I have struggled to stay in compliance with society’s rules regarding it. I like to exist outside of time whenever possible and that makes me very different from most people I meet.
How does one exist outside of time? One of the biggest ways is meditation. The concept of clock time is a big enemy of meditation. It’s the thing that makes the practice seem difficult. What is meditation but a rest period for the mind? The thing that makes it hard for some people is the idea that it has to be squeezed into a certain time frame and practiced for a certain number of minutes per day or its value is somehow diminished. How restful is that?
It makes sense to me to have moments dedicated to meditation. It also makes sense to develop an ability to enter a meditative state at will. Meditation is a tool to allow us to rest our minds so we do not become overwhelmed with life. It is a gift we give ourselves, the gift of not thinking.
Sitting for meditation presents a struggle for many people. A struggle to quiet the mind. The struggle is unnecessary. Not thinking is not the same thing as not having thoughts. We are not required to have no thoughts in order to rest our minds. If we’re awake, thoughts happen, that’s just how it is. It is focusing on thoughts that makes the mind work. Meditation can happen whenever we are able to sit quietly and allow the thoughts to flow through like a stream. Doing so creates a feeling of bliss and calm, which is what most people who meditate are seeking. I propose it can be done throughout the day and does not require a cushion, loose clothing, or a bell. Those things are nice, but definitely not necessary.
When my mind gets tired, if I am able to do so, I rest it. The key is recognizing the opportunities and taking them. Not everyone recognizes all the time we have available to us. In present moment awareness, the concept of time as most of us understand it, dissolves. Finding refuge there as much as possible can help people escape the pressure of clock time.
At my last job, the days were often very busy from start to finish, but there were moments once in a while when the phone didn’t ring. Sometimes it was only for a few seconds, sometimes whole minutes at a time. At times I would talk to my coworkers, but other times I would sit at my desk and just be there. I would take whatever opportunity there was to be aware that I was sitting at my desk breathing in and out. Whatever other thoughts managed to float through were allowed to do so. When another call came, I would focus on that. These little breaks helped me do my job well. Nearly every conversation I had at there was light-hearted and friendly. There was no reason for them not to be.
Finding ways to exist outside of time is finding oases in the desert of life. It is respite from the onslaught of information that is hurled at us all day, every day. It’s not possible to be stressed or miserable when you are not thinking. It literally requires effort to stress ourselves out and yet it is a choice many of us make every single day.
I wish for more people to take a break from time once in a while. Because what if it turns out that time is not what we thought it was and it is more spread out and less linear? Think of all the energy people waste with worry, much of it the result of time pressure. And think of how we could change the world by reclaiming that energy and focusing it in a different way.
Time is a tool, use it, don’t become its servant.