When we can understand time as a mental construct and time poverty as simply a state of mind, we see that the change we need must come from within. The more we learn how to marshal our inner resources to transform the way we experience our life, the more we embrace the power of now.
Life in this second decade of the 21st century is often described as ‘time-poor’. In fact, time poverty and modern living appear to go hand in hand. If you want to stay in the race, being time poor can be seen as just part of the deal, but can there ever really be a ‘poverty of time’?
A drought, for instance, is a short supply of water; a shortage of food can become a famine, and having little or no income can lead to poverty in the economic sense; to homelessness, unemployment and other social issues. As forms of scarcity, these all refer to resources that are lacking. Shelter, food and water are physical things – but time is not something that can be built, grown, collected or transported. And so can there really ever be a scarcity of time? Is it really ever true that we don’t have time?
In fact, we always do have time. To be alive –to have a life –is to have time. Of course, we do not live forever –but time poverty does not relate to mortality as such, or the average lifespan. It is not really about having or not having time. Rather, it relates to the struggle of getting things done; completing our to-do lists; it is about focusing on what is really important, identifying our true priorities. Ultimately, saying ‘there is no time’ or ‘I have no time’ is a shorthand way of acknowledging there are things you wish to do which you haven’t accomplished yet; and also in some instances, that there are things you’re probably quite happy to not find the time for at the moment, or even postpone indefinitely.
It is vital to understand that what we fill up our time with is a matter of choice. When we take our time poverty for granted, as an unavoidable part of modern life –or even wear it as a badge of honour – we are less likely to acknowledge we have a choice or tap into the awareness necessary for change. In this sense, constantly telling others and ourselves ‘we have no time’ deflects our responsibility for what we do with it. To complicate matters, being ‘busy’ (a euphemism for time-poor) in this age of information with its accelerating, technology-driven lifestyle is often seen as a positive; a sign of one’s status, both professionally and socially. Thus, saying we are ‘busy’ neatly sidesteps the question of time poverty and its negative connotations –and justifies our preoccupation with work.
In his article How to free yourself from time poverty, blogger Scott Young (scotthyoung.com) proposes that time poverty is best defined as a “…lack of quality in the now”.
“If your time is being invested in pursuits that lack quality”, he says, “you will feel deprived even if the amount of time is unchanged.”
Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now is about reclaiming quality of life in the only place where we can really experience it: the present moment. Tolle says when we stop planning, projecting and remembering, and focus only on what is happening right now –worry dissolves.
When we consider the possibility that time poverty is a myth–that we can decide what we do with our life-time and that constant busy-ness is not necessarily good for either our productivity or health –we begin to examine some big questions relevant to life in this technology-driven age of information. How can we use technology creatively, to allow us more time to focus on the things that really count? As information becomes more accessible, how can we learn to make choices that enhance our quality of life? As life speeds up, how can we slow down?
The practice of ‘mindfulness’ is very much in vogue today, among people looking for a viable alternative lifestyle –one which balances work, recreation, family, health, spirituality and so on. From this angle, time poverty might be seen as a lack of consciousness or being –a depletion of inner, not outer, resources. In this state of distractedness –or as you might also describe it, this lack of attention–we may find ourselves just going through the motions, with no real sense of ‘I am’; of my true self.
However, when we see time as a mental construct and time poverty as simply a state of mind, we may embrace the need for change. There is a vast range of practical disciplines available today, ancient and modern, for restoring balance and equilibrium to our inner world: meditation, mindfulness, breath awareness, yoga, qigong, reiki –to name a few. Through cultivating stillness on a daily basis, we begin to awaken from our spiritual slumber. There is also an increasing body of evidence showing the extraordinary healing capacity of the human being, when mind and body are in harmony.
The more we learn to master the resources that characterise our inner dimension –attention, will, breath, imagination, creativity, intuition –and experience this present moment, the more we replace ‘time poverty’ with a sense of abundance; we activate our innate ability to heal ourselves –mind, body and soul –and embrace the power of now.
To finish with one of Scott Young’s analogies, you realise that “The oasis is beneath your feet; the desert was just too distracting”.
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