It’s About Time

by Mark Walstrom

Looking at my appointment book the other day I was suddenly struck by the realization that the majority of my waking life is dictated by the social invention we call time. Perhaps, I thought, it’s time to take a serious inventory of how I spend my time lest I waste my life away.

On the downside of my relationship with time, I fall into the trap of viewing time only as linear. I tend to chop up my days into defined segments of time, one right after the other and sometimes overlapping. Meetings, appointments, even lunch with a friend all have to fit into the little numbered boxes in my daily planner. Then I try to manage my time efficiently which usually creates more things to do, and so on and so forth — you get the picture — it never ends.

It seems that the primary measure of how I value my time is based on productivity. Just to make sure I don’t get too consumed by the popular quotient “your personal worth in life equals what you produce,” I purposely plan open gaps of time in my weekly schedule. An hour here, two hours there. Sometimes these openings of time still get filled with tasks. More often than not, though, I am spontaneous and follow my bliss to the record store, the café, or just go for a walk. The occasional twinge of guilt quickly dissipates when I immerse myself in the enjoyment and relaxation of these siestas.

Too often I find myself worried about and preoccupied with time: “Will I make it on time?” “Am I wasting time?” After all, time is money, right? And there never seems to be enough time. At the end of many of my days I still have one or more “things to do” on my mental checklist. Then I ruminate about how I could have spent my time differently or I wallow in guilt for a while thinking I didn’t “manage” my time well.

Being in middle aged I am beginning to have the sense that I have less time remaining in my life than the time I have already lived. Some days I feel regret at not having lived the time I’ve had differently. Other days I feel some urgency to reach certain milestones, which puts more of a premium on planning my current time wisely. Sometimes I struggle with aging or the changes that come with the passage of time. In moments of clarity, however, I see that time is eternal, there is nothing to resist or manipulate.

Over the years I’ve become adept at time traveling. I get fixated on something in the past or I jump ahead with my thoughts into next week, next month, or a hundred years from now when I won’t even be alive. The moment is gone and I wasn’t even a participant. Now I know how my time gets “lost.”

I have established some rather odd habits associated with time. I set the clock in my car ten minutes fast to scare myself into being on time. I still dial up the number that gives the recorded message of what time it is: “Good evening, at the tone the time will be _______,” beep. There’s something reassuring about knowing that at least one person can always be counted on for the correct time. Also, I have yet to replace the strap that broke on my wristwatch years ago reasoning to myself that I won’t have to pay attention to what time it is if my watch is in my pocket instead of on my wrist.

On the upside, I seem to have developed an ability to flow with time instead of trying to micro-manage it. Flowing, I’ve discovered, is about moving more with internal time rather than external time. Internal time is my pace and my rhythm — not somebody else’s. Some days I move fast, others slow. Some days I have the stamina to endure long hours; and other days, let’s just say I wouldn’t be nominated for employee of the day award.

Nature has taught me a lot about time and the cycles of life. Earth time is a slower clock that seems to meander. The change of the seasons always reminds me of the natural order of life, the slow but purposeful evolution of time. Commercial time is what I used to chase after but never could quite catch up with. I’ve learned over the years that there is a physical, emotional, and spiritual toll that comes with following a clock that runs on accelerated time.

Time rarely fits neatly into a calendar or a twenty-four hour clock. Some days time flies. Other day’s time seems to stand still. In reality, time is only the moment, a quality of life that bears dangers and gifts. Time awareness is about living the experiences of my life in the here and now.

Now, as I look forward to my week I make sure I shape my time as much around family, friends, and community as I do my business week. Knowing that when I’m older and I look back on my life I will see that my time was well spent.

For the rest of my time on this earth I’m going to try to live my time fully instead of battling time or thinking of clever new ways to arrange time. Time, I now understand, is not the enemy but an ally worthy of my serious consideration.

Mark Walstrom is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He can be contacted at (616) 222-9857.