Grey man stealing time

This post is about the importance of time. We are always on, we are more connected than ever, but maybe we are further apart than ever before at the same time. Time has always been limited for an individual, no way to buy more, impossible to get it back. But over the years my perception of time has shifted. As a child and teenager I did not even think about time, I just had it. The biggest shift happened after graduation when my daily routine was suddenly taken over by work commitments. A big chunk of my time became unavailable to me. Work and sleep are certainly the largest factors in everyone’s time budget. It is not surprising that people suffer from stress at work and it appears that time has become an even sparser commodity. So much needs to get cramped into a single day. Each and every single day. Multitasking and doing things at the same time appear to be an efficiency gain, but maybe we get less out of each activity because it doesn’t get our full attention.

Now I think a lot about time: having time, taking time, making time, being allowed to spend time, being given time. Is this some indication of a midlife crisis? Or is it triggered through the experience of the death of my sons? I have done a lot of things that are related to time. From the idea of getting more done by learning about speedreading to conducting time audits to optimize my day. My idea has always been to get more done in the same limited time. Only now am I realizing that the opposite should be the goal. Isn’t this the cause of stress – the very idea that we are not getting enough done? Having the freedom to not do something is a blessing. The epiphany of doing less (quantity) while doing more (quality) and enjoying a moment fully.

This post has been sitting in my drafts for several months and I only now got back to it based on this TED talk “Life in the digital now“.

“I think that technology has altered that flow of time. The overall time that we have for our narrative, our lifespan, has been increasing, but the smallest measure, the moment, has shrunk. […] By archiving everything, we think that we can store it, but time is not data. It cannot be stored. You and I know exactly what it means like to be truly present in a moment. It might have happened while we were playing an instrument, or looking into the eyes of someone we’ve known for a very long time. At such moments, our selves are complete.”

Do we really know what it is like to be present in a moment? Or have we lost the magic of a single moment? I think we might be trying to archive all the moments because we are so very afraid to lose them altogether – at least the beautiful ones. It is weird that difficult images replay in our heads whereas the beautiful memories have a tendency to fade away, that particular lovely smell that delight us or the opposite one that causes us to wrinkle our nose, the picture of a loved one smiling or beautiful sounds. But it is true: even taking a picture doesn’t capture the true essence of a moment. It rather might take away from it because we end up not being fully present in the moment.

Maybe this appreciation of a moment happens in situations of tragedy. The moments that count the most, a moment that can be so short, but so powerful like the moment of birth and the moment of death. My children have taught me about the importance of a moment and living entirely in the now. My mind has been so busy thinking about so many things that I would not really recognize what happened in the now. I was there and I wasn’t there. While I was spending time with my children my mind did not wander, it did not think about other things and I was fully present.

Here is what Abha Dawesar concludes with in her talk:

“We owe the present moment our full attention. Attention is time. One of my yoga instructors once said that love is attention, and definitely from my grandmother, love and attention were one and the same thing. The digital world cannibalizes time, and in doing so, I want to suggest that what it threatens is the completeness of ourselves. It threatens the flow of love. But we don’t need to let it. We can choose otherwise. […] We can slow down and we can tune in to the ebb and flow of time. We can choose to take time back.”

I think I now understand what that means.

Why is it important to think about time? For once because we don’t know how limited our time might be. We think we have plenty and we might be generous with wasting our time. And when I use the word waste I don’t mean we haven’t spend the time in an objectively useful manner, but instead we have not even perceived it as something that is worthwhile because we just take it for granted. Once tragedy strikes us though we might question that belief – I certainly did when my children died. Somehow 160 years worth of time were taken away from my sons. They hardly got any time in their lives. This is what reminded me of a movie I saw as a child called Momo.

It is fascinating to me how a movie from 1986, based on a novel from 1973, captures so many things that are so absolutely relevant today. Wikipedia publishes this synopsis:

“In the ruins of an amphitheatre just outside an unnamed Italian city lives Momo, a little girl of mysterious origin. She is remarkable in the neighbourhood because she has the extraordinary ability to listen — really listen. By simply being with people and listening to them, she can help them find answers to their problems, make up with each other, and think of fun games.

This pleasant atmosphere is spoiled by the arrival of the Men in Grey. These strange individuals represent the Timesavings Bank and promote the idea of timesaving among the population, time which can be deposited to the Bank and returned to the client later with interest. In reality, the more time people save, the less they have. The time they save is actually lost to them, consumed by the Men in Grey. Momo, however, is a wrench in the plans of the Timesaving Bank thanks to her special personality.”

The full movie is available on YouTube and I think it is time well spent watching it.

I have recognized that I have a choice with regard to time and precious moments. I get to decide how to spend my time. I can make conscious decisions about it and I am not taking it for granted any more. I just need to remind myself because there is always the danger to fall back into old habits.

Help break the silence!

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