Enriched by Time

Organization experts love to teach us to squeeze more into our daily 24...but increasing our efficiency somehow just leaves us stressed out and gasping. Here, four writers who found a way to become rich in timeand fill their lives with WHAT COUNTS

enriched by time
Photograph: Reinhard Hunger

A Loophole in Time

by Diane Ackerman

I’ve heeded all sorts of alarm clocks: the jangling hammer and bell of a moonfaced metal demon, the buzz saw that chews dreams apart, the menacing pings that rival a dump truck backing up, the ascending shriek of a digital banshee, an iPhone’s polite din and that old two-timer, the snooze alarm. Jarred awake, I’d feel rushed before my feet hit the ground, spurred on by obligations—work to do, appointments to make, promises to keep, planes to catch.What all alarm clocks have in common is a swift kick in the sleep, a way to grab you by the nerve endings and yell, “Rush, rush! You’re nearly late!” The name says it all: An “alarm” clock is time’s enforcer rubbing in just how harried, overworked and overcommitted you truly feel. The whole point is discomfort, and kowtowing to our homegrown gods of chronicity, even though a different kind of time, seasonal time, surrounds us, whispering on a far more ancient level straight into every cell and bone.

But alarm clocks changed for me after my husband had a stroke several years ago and could no longer speak. Click here to read more.

In the Now

by Marcia Menter

I’m not going to be so melodramatic as to say my time is running out, but every look in the mirror tells me I’m entering the latter part of my life. I’ve been flirting with a major dermatological intervention. But no laser can change the fact that my wonderful 27-year marriage has flashed by in about 10 minutes or that I know a disturbing number of people my age with wonky knees, hips or backs (including me). The years I’ve lived are not gone. They’re all over my face and body. Furthermore, my life experiences, most of which I’ve forgotten, are still humming in my nervous system, affecting my perception of every new experience. When I hear the next-to-last Beethoven piano sonata, I hear it as the dozens of different women I was when I heard the piece before, and before, and before. My whole life flashes before my ears.

So my time is running out, because that’s what time does. And I’m still (as I’ve been for decades) obsessed with trying to be present for my own life, even though that’s like trying to catch the current of a river with your hands as it carries you downstream, toward the falls.

As time pushes me relentlessly onward, I skitter around like a cat in a glass-bottomed boat: Something is holding me up, but I’m damned if I can figure out what it is or get a foothold. In this state of intermittent existential terror, I rush and rush to get things done. But I already know—though I keep forgetting—that the way to stop being overwhelmed by the flow of time is to step outside it, and that one of the simplest, most practical ways to do this is through mindfulness meditation, or vipassana. I’m returning to this practice after a lapse of some years. Now I remember why I need it.

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Rhythm of the Day

by Kathleen Norris

The first time I went on a monastic retreat, nearly 30 years ago, I accompanied a friend and her seven-year-old daughter, who had requested the weekend excursion as a First Communion gift. I had just begun attending church (Presbyterian) after a long lapse, was feeling tired and wanted to get out of town. (Monasteries often accommodate guests, and they don’t mind if you are not religious.) I brought along writing projects to work on, so I was relieved to discover that guests at Assumption Abbey, where we would be staying, were not obliged to attend the monks’ daily prayers at morning, noon and night. The constant interruptions would surely distract me from my work, I thought, dicing my day like an onion. But I soon found that I got the most work done when I experienced the abbey’s full liturgy, day in, day out. The routine establishes a powerful rhythm, and when there are set times for prayer, work and recreation, it’s easy to work during the work periods. In that monastery I began to believe that there is actually enough time in a day.

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The Richness of Empty Evenings

by Jenny Allen

I live alone. These things happen. Your children grow up, your husband leaves, and then you are a household of one. This is a happy story, I promise, but I do need to say this: Get ready, ladies. You may be next. And if and when you are, please, please try to remember what I am telling you now. You know how you never have enough time? You will have it. The very thing, that precious, out-of-reach, gleaming pot of gold you have been longing for! You will even have time on your hands. If you are wise, you will see it as a gift. If you are like me, you will have to do some stumbling around to get there.

Like so much in life, this story is about dinner. Dinner was how I spent almost 30 years of my life—making dinner, serving dinner and eating dinner with my family. Slipping chopped carrots into the meat loaf so that vegetables would be represented in the meal. Guiding dinner table conversation so that it yielded something loftier than burp jokes. And then, after dinner, overseeing homework, making sure children went to bed at a decent hour. It was the life I had chosen, and I think I was good at it, and most of the time I loved it. So when this ritual ended, I was totally unprepared for the expanse of time it left behind. With a few exceptions, I hadn’t spent an evening alone since my twenties. And now I had this huge hole where dinnertime used to be, this gaping Grand Canyon in which nothing was expected of me. Good Lord, what was I supposed to do?

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First Published Thu, 2012-03-01 12:37

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