Thursday, September 20, 2012

Finding Time

In a busy multi-faceted life I find I am always saying I "couldn't find time" for this or that. Too often the "this or that" is something small that might enrich my life. I subscribe to Composer's Datebook, a short daily story about a composer, that comes in my email inbox from American Public Radio. (  I can read it then and there, go to the website where I can not only read it but hear samples of the music, or download it to listen to later. I have been subscribing to this daily post for over a year. But I find that I am just saving and saving them without ever "getting around" to listening to them or even reading them. I have also discovered a wonderful website, that allows me to click on a particular spiritual practice ("awareness" for example) and to read snippets about it, to find books and movies and music and quotations about it. ( ) Theoretically it would take less than 15 minutes to look through and read and listen slowly and carefully, and come away with an insight for the new day. But I don't take that time. I tell my students that even on a busy day they can find 10 minutes to play scales or play through one of their assigned pieces four or five times. Progress in so many things is achieved in small increments. But I do not always practice what I preach.

We live in a sped-up world full of more distractions than ever. We have replaced hours and hours of work with labor-saving devices. But in their stead we have given ourselves enormous amounts of information to process and produce via email, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs. I know my main reason for ignoring composer's datebook and spiritual practice is that I am overwhelmed when I open my email inbox. Just reading through everything can take over an hour. In a busy day I wind up practicing what I call "email triage", opening only those messages that urgently require a response. I delete what I can without reading it and leave the rest in my inbox to await processing when I "have more time". As the un-opened messages accumulate I feel more and more ill-at-ease, worried about what I might be missing, worried that I will fail to respond to a friend in a timely way and cause hurt feelings. I feel overwhelmed by the virtual mailbox on top of the snail mailbox, the papers on my desk, the virtual photos and videos that are trapped in my camera waiting to be uploaded, named, sorted, printed and distributed. I have stacks of books waiting to be read, papers that need processing and filing. It seems that the virtual world has not saved us time but only doubled the number of things we must sort through, read and respond to. It can be exhausting.

It never feels good to leave things undone, to allow papers to accumulate. But if I am to "find" time for walks, to listen to music, to read something enlightening, to practice my spiritual traditions, to play with the dog or respond to a family member or friend with full presence then I must let other things go. The multiplicity of demands on our time challenge us to practice discernment, self-discipline and mindfulness. They are an invitation to choose wisely when we decide how to spend the next hour, to do those things we know to be beneficial especially when they require effort, to learn not to rush but to be fully focused on whatever we are doing while we are doing it. It isn't easy to let things go. But we are not omnipotent and our time on Earth is limited. Virtual reality must not replace actual reality, and life is more than crossing things off the to do list. There must be space for physical engagement with each other and with the world. It is all the praying, walking and talking, hand-holding, music-making, out-loud laughing, flower-smelling, bread baking, ball catching moments alone and together that make life worth while.