Do You Have the Time?

Admittedly, this is a loaded question, not an actual inquiry about the time of  day. Each of us has only our allotted twenty-four hours, so the question becomes, time for what? As we are assaulted by the busyness of today’s world, down- or reflect-time appears to have little merit when compared with the apparent urgency of the tasks at hand. Given our immigrant beginnings and subsequent pioneer ventures, when we launched ourselves at new horizons without knowing what awaited us at journey’s end, it is not surprising that Nike’s slogan, “Just do it!” appeals to us in these United States. For many of us, this tendency to bypass reflection and be captivated by the incessant calls to action we encounter is exacerbated by the instant response demanded by innovations in technology. Much of the time, most of us are plugged in and immediately available to others. We are an outwardly-oriented society, engaged by external events, people, and responsibilities. We often regard the more reserved, contemplative approach as questionable or even problematic. Many of us are consumed by staying “connected” to everyone and everything but ourselves: passive entertainment is on the rise; boredom is to be avoided at all costs.

Unfortunately, perpetual outward occupation stymies reflection and the resulting self-awareness, creative thought, and effective planning that lead to meaningful life pursuits. Reflection, of course, requires time set aside for this purpose or allocated from transitional moments such as commuting, waiting, and, in some cases, exercising.  In reality, if we do not take time to reflect, choose for ourselves, and plan, it is very likely that life will happen to us, and we will have less control over the direction and the quality of both our journeys and our destinations. In light of the fact that we are not as yet immortal, all we really have is each given moment, so the quality of our moments is at least as important as the end game.

It turns out that it is the quiet times, when we disconnect from the clamoring world, that provide refreshment and inspiration and illuminate our paths. Reflect-time can involve both thinking and writing. Journaling, even if only for a few minutes, is a surprisingly liberating and informative occupation. Tristine Rainer in The New Diary ( New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 1978) states that journal writing “is a practical psychological tool that enables you to express feelings without inhibition, recognize and alter self-defeating habits of mind, and come to know and accept that self which is you. It is a sanctuary where all the disparate elements of a life — feelings, thoughts, dreams, hopes, fears, fantasies, practicalities, worries, facts, and intuitions — can merge to give you a sense of wholeness and coherence. It can help you understand your past, discover joy in the present, and create your own future.” So, whether reflecting internally or in writing, the question is not so much “Do you have the time?” but “Will you make the time?”

It is well worth your while to foster the practice of unplugging and checking in with yourself, even at the risk of being bored. You’ll be glad you did.

— Ellen Yenawine