“Since death is certain, but the time of death is uncertain, what is the most important thing?”
This is a favorite contemplation of Pema Chödrön, the renowned western Buddhist teacher and prolific author.
When I meditate on this, the first answer pops into my head is: time.
The value of time has been a poignant subject for me lately. I’m currently languishing in the lush Vermont summer, which burst through a long, cold, gray spring. The short summer is precious up here, and as it came on the scene only about a month ago, my free time has become more important to me.
It became so important, in fact, that I emailed David, Wall Street Daily’s Editorial Director, and asked him if I could drop down to writing Young & Prudent every other week instead of every week. I couldn’t resist the urge to sit on the porch in the early sun every morning, which used to be my prime writing time. But, this also meant losing part of my income.
So far, it’s been worth it. I only plan to spend about a year up here, and I don’t want all my time taken up by work. Of course, I also don’t want to leave Karmê Chöling Meditation Retreat Center – a desperate pauper.
It’s a conundrum everyone has to consider many times throughout their life: What is the ideal balance between work and play, between free time and earning a living?
The Culture of Busy
As I have written about many times before, the current culture in the United States has a huge effect on millennials in particular.
Self-imposed busyness is worn like a badge of success these days. People are throwing all their energy into jobs, volunteer work, hobbies, and personal projects.
“They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence,” writes Time Kreider in his popular essay “The ‘Busy’ Trap.”
Of course, having the ability to pursue such extra-curricular activities can be a wonderful thing. But it seems to so easily get out of hand. When I was living in Baltimore, I remember proudly stating to my friends that I simply couldn’t get together until the following week because I was just so busy. Many times, I would check myself and wonder, what’s the point of earning all that money and filling up my days with seemingly productive activities, if I couldn’t do the things I enjoy most: connecting with people.
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For me, being packed to the gills with must-dos also correlates with spending more money. I have tried to save time by eating out, having someone else do my laundry, taking an Uber, and various other conveniences. On top of that I also decided to take exercise classes, get massages, and schedule pedicures in order to relax from my go-go-go schedule.
It’s a self-perpetuating race of doing more, to have more, to enjoy more. But it’s a cycle that always ends up back at doing more, to have more…
Mindful of the Gaps
The mind can fall into the trap of being busy, too – even if the body is still. I often spend time planning, worrying, or just daydreaming about the next hour or day. It’s time and energy wasted, instead of focusing on what I am actually doing in the present moment.
In the face of this busyness, we could all stand to embrace some space.
Not only does space refresh us and allow us to enjoy life more, but it is often necessary for brilliant moments of inspiration, or just a more efficient and enjoyable work day.
As Krieder writes, “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”
What if not being busy was the new point of pride? To have the awareness of what is too much, what is a priority, and when to say no – be the new markers of success? We could create a culture where we come together with friends and family, and don’t feel rushed or constricted by time, but instead enjoy the space of every minute.
“So what is the most important thing to do with each day? With each morning, each afternoon, each evening?” asks Chödrön.
“It is to leave a gap… And these gaps can extend so that they can permeate your entire life, so that the continuity is no longer the continuity of discursive thought but rather one continual gap.”