Fighting Time

I’m going a bit deep with this one. It started in December with me stealing my husband’s Christmas present (before he’d read it)- Oliver Burkeman’s ‘4000 Weeks: Time and How to Use It’ and is continuing with Tara McMullin’s excellent podcasts and essays, via my favourites Wendell Berry and Michel de Montaigne.

Actually no. It started during a group meditation session a couple of years ago. The meditation leader asked- “what are you battling?’, and the quick, clear that answer that came back was ‘Time’. How can I be battling that in which I live? That which I’m made up of?

The questions that kicked off this blog post and a whirlwind of further questions came from Tara McMullin’s essay ‘We Just Keep Squeezing More In’. She asks, ‘What else could time be if not money? What if time is happiness? What if time is care? What if time is intimacy?’ The idea of time as money is so ingrained in our culture, though it is not a particularly old one.

The cult of productivity, under which the Western world lives, makes us feel that any time not spent working, is wasted. But who’s to say what ‘spent well’ means? Katherine May, in her book ‘Wintering’ states, “I used to think that these were wasted days, but I now realise that’s the point.” Wonderful things happen in ‘wasted time’, healing, rest, and truly enjoying. The ancient Buddhist practice of ‘just’ sitting and being speaks to this.

In fact, there is a Buddhist idea that to be endlessly busy is actually a form a laziness, as not only do you never decide to do something meaningful, but this way of life doesn’t allow time for sitting still to listen to yourself and the world- in other words, to do the real work of life.

So what does this mean for our work and work time? How do we work and find space and time to truly live? My first stop is my favourite Wendell Berry. In his essay, ‘The Unsettling of America’ he states, ‘we have made it our over-riding ambition to escape work, and as a consequence have debased work until it is only fit to escape from’. This echoes the Buddhist teaching that the more we try to escape something, the harder it becomes. Paradoxically, doing something with focus and mindfulness, even the things we don’t like, rewards us with good feelings.

Oliver Burkeman says in his book that one of the reasons we find it so hard to decide to do something- one thing, one meaningful thing, and see it through- is that it brings us face to face with the fact that we’ve chosen to spend our time in this way and not another, despite our finite time on this planet. Choosing closes off all other possibilities, there is no escape and we can’t have it all. But with that acceptance comes peace.

The ‘authentic business coach’ George Kao advocates ‘joyful productivity’. He urges us not to expect everything to be ‘fun and easy’, but that we have it in our power to find joy in our tasks, even the ones we find difficult- especially the ones we find difficult.

I’ll leave this post with the news that Brene Brown, writer, speaker and all round sage, has announced that she will take the summer off (14 weeks) and is encouraging her team to take off at least 4 weeks paid leave. All social media channels will be silenced, no podcasts will be produced and all engagements cancelled. You can read about her reasons here, but suffice to say that she wants to find space in her life in order to enjoy her work again. In these times, it seems like a radical act, but one that is desperately needed.