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Time as a Gift?

By: Emilie Getliffe

In my life, time frequently feels like an ever-unfolding list of my next professional and personal “to-dos,” each of which I could rank by how urgent, motivating, meaningful, challenging or fun it is – or, how mundane and draining. I frequently find myself figuring out how to fit more into a day, a week, or a month, always working to successfully complete projects and check off tasks as efficiently as possible, this being the measure of my success.

I’ve realized that I often talk about time in terms of quantities: For example, not having enough time to connect with friends, go for a run, read a book, or respond to all those emails… Or now, struggling with too much time in a certain place and without my typical activities. It’s as though time is a finite commodity that we must maximize our use of, to do more, accomplish more, produce more. Now, with an unexpectedly wide expanse of time in the same place with the same person (my partner Vincent, who makes me laugh almost every day), I’ve started to ponder about how strange it is to treat my life as this never-ending list of to-dos.

I am slowly trying (though the learning curve is long and steep!) to think about time differently, seeing it as a precious gift rather than a resource to maximize. When I think of it this way, I can be more grateful and present for the moments shared with those around me (virtual or otherwise). I also more naturally recognize how the time we have is finite, a fact highlighted by the tragedies unfolding with Covid-19. My priorities become clearer, and my capacity for acceptance, care, and simple enjoyment grows.

Paradoxically, I’ve found this change in perspective easier when I add structure to my day, i.e., giving myself permission to truly enjoy 30 minutes of yoga or an afternoon dance break with my partner, or ending my workday at a specific time. When I have stronger boundaries, I’m more able to appreciate turning my attention to catch up on the news or connect with friends and family before dinner.

When I’m able to shift my perspective, I can experience time as a gift, and feel less trapped by a sense of never having “enough.” It allows me to be more present for the moments I’ve created to do the things that are important to me: doing good work, caring for myself emotionally and physically, cooking nourishing food, and connecting with my partner, family, friends and colleagues during these difficult, uncertain times.

This Tao Te Ching passage says it so well…and has helped me to anchor my gift of time:

“There is a time for being ahead, a time for being behind;

a time for being in motion, a time for being at rest;

a time for being vigorous, a time for being exhausted;

a time for being safe, a time for being in danger.

The Master sees things as they are,

Without trying to control them.

She lets them go their own way,

And resides at the center of the circle.”

What might be possible if we change our daily experience to create time and space for what is arising in us, and can experience that as a gift? How could we create more centered lives based on what is most important as we navigate this new reality?