This past October in 2019, I took a trip to New Orleans. It was some much needed time off from a busy and stressful job. A few days into the trip, I found myself becoming carefree and feeling more deeply relaxed than I had been in a long while. In fact, I didn’t realize how exhausted I had been until I wasn’t. I walked around and explored all day, stopping whenever I wanted to eat something or chase down what interested me. I let the languid pace of that humid city pull me into its dance, and I lost track of time. I remember thinking how much I really needed to re-evaluate how I was living and take some serious time “off” from whatever pace I was keeping while I was “on,” and yet how unlikely it seemed that I would ever have the time for such a thing.
Finding the Time
I thought that perhaps there would never be time like there was when I was a student and I had the flexibility to sleep in or indulge the creative and artistic urges within me however I wanted. When I had the freedom to try and learn a new skill, read a book all day, or chase down new experiences without having a “Monday morning” to answer to. I felt like I was craving unstructured time. Just perceptible over my beignet, a still, small voice inside me said:
Your life can be whatever you make of it…anything is possible.
Time is funny. We often say we don’t have enough of it, or perhaps certain things take up too much. We talk about time as if it’s something concrete, like ice cream. There’s only a certain amount in the tub before its gone.
But time isn’t concrete. Of course, we all have to work based upon some kind of set schedule for things like the days of the week or business operating hours. Time is a mental construct that we have decided to live within because our lives are built around it. The concept of time zones illuminates this subjectivity (unless you live in Arizona).
But as a culture, we didn’t always have life organized in such a way.
Our concept of time was, at one point, much broader; measured in planting seasons, moon phases, and the measure of light over a day’s period. Things have gotten pretty busy for us humans over the last few hundred years. We’ve managed to cram in lots of good things in with that time to be sure. But we’ve also sped up the rate at which we expect things and do things. Today you can order something online and have it tomorrow. One hundred years ago there wasn’t a “next-day” anything. This speed has created a trade-off: immediacy and possibility for the tranquility that comes from certain substantive and material activities such as waiting and doing nothing.
Somewhere along the way, we seem to have made the tool our master.
How many times have you found yourself daydreaming, thinking about one thing while you are doing something else? Certain activities make time pass more quickly, like being in love or having fun. One of the most joyful evenings of my life involved a Ferris wheel, and as we went round and round, the minutes seemed to stand still. If I think about it now I can almost go right back to that warm summer night. The way the pink lace dress I was wearing shielded my shoulders from the evening breeze coming off DC’s Potomac River. In moments like those, time travel is real.
The time to be able to lose ourselves seems rarer in adulthood. Many people can more easily look in their childhood for experiences like those. I think back on mine and mostly, I remember the kinds of moods: rainy days playing indoors or reading in my school library window nook, sunny ones spent outside in a continual loop of nature exploration, stomach-flips on the swingset, and the feeling of pool water drying on my skin. I don’t remember many specific times, though I may have had many similar days and moments. What my memory recalls is how those moments made me feel.
In a way, PTSD is the reverse of this kind of memory, a sort of continual, negative loop that makes you feel as though a past event is a current threat. It feels real and present even though it’s already happened. Memory and experience are subjective. It is the quality of presence that also gives time its relativity. Our presence to it, and what each moment is bringing us.
Moments we are truly present for can seem to stretch on for much longer than their physical limits because of the nature of awareness. Whatever we focus on expands, and what we ignore recedes into the background.
Losing Track of Time
After this period of quarantine is over, I think a popular interview question will be something like, “What did YOU do with your quarantine?”
Some people may use it to accomplish something they’ve always wanted to, or improve their health and well-being. Those would be good uses of your time. But I want to caution anyone who thinks that those things will necessarily make them happier or more “well.” They might–if perhaps they lead you to lose yourself in something you really enjoy or find a part of yourself you’ve too long neglected. They may–if they sometimes can create the kinds of experiences that allow you to time travel, where time can stand still for you.
Right now, the world is standing still.
It is literally vibrating less. One of the interesting things about this is that it is allowing scientists to perceive smaller, more delicate seismic events that we wouldn’t otherwise register.
There is something symbolic in this. When we get quiet, we are more able to hear the still, small voice of our own intuitive selves.
This is why Elon Musk gets his best ideas in the shower, and you may, too. It’s when we are quiet that we can hear clearly. For some people, activities like cooking, painting, playing music, or running can provide the calm that allows them to move into that receptive space.
Perhaps this quarantine will present an opportunity for you to find yours.
During this time, specifically in April of 2020, Monday mornings still come. But now things look very different from my perspective. I no longer work at that job. Low and behold, because of an unexpected change in world events, I have the flexibility to take a lunch break when I need it, to nap if it’s necessary, and really all of the time in the world, depending on how you look at it. I am learning new things, creating new things, and occasionally, losing track of time. The space to be at peace, to be bored even, is tremendously healing.
I offer you this: at some during this period, however long it lasts, take the time to lose track of time.
It may end up being the most interesting thing that you do. You may never make the space for it again as life arches toward busyness. Take the gift of the moments that you have, which are finite in a sense but never limited, and do something with them that allows you to JUST BE. This time is unprecedented. Use it to find peace and balance in your life. Try some breathwork or meditation. Remember, we are human beings, not human doings. To that effect, here’s an excerpt from an incredible piece of poetry by Adrie Kusserow that’s been floating around the internet this month, an adaptation of the famous Mary Oliver poem, ‘Wild Geese.’
“You do not have to become totally zen,
You do not have to use this isolation to make your marriage better,
your body slimmer, your children more creative.
You do not have to ‘maximize its benefits’
By using this time to work even more,
write the bestselling Corona Diaries,
Or preach the gospel of ZOOM.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body unlearn
everything capitalism has taught you,
(That you are nothing if not productive,
That consumption equals happiness,
That the most important unit is the single self.
That you are at your best when you resemble an efficient machine).[..]”