In my previous article, Slaves of Time, I discussed freedom of attitude, a kind of inner calm in the face of a world that demands much of our time. It is hard to free ourselves from time anxiety–after all, we were brought up to maximize, to seek ever more with ever less of our time. More for less sure does sound great, and it would be, if it were sustainable. But if you find yourself (as many do) stuck in a vicious cycle of more activity and less quality time, then it’s time to break out!
How are you to achieve liberty? Whole volumes could be written on this, but I don’t want to waste your time. Here, I wish to offer just a few suggestions on how to live deliberately*:
Meditate on what is essential and what is not. This need not take long, nor does it involve mental gymnastics. Just make a daily practice of thinking simply and clearly about what is most vital in your life. You may be surprised by your answers. If it helps, keep a journal.
Give family and friends the gift of yourself. Wherever you are, whomever you are with, be mindful: really be present. Remember to give yourself the gift of your own time too. (If you have to, schedule in a generous block of “My Time.”)
Read carefully and do not be satisfied with a superficial understanding. In our age of quick-blip info, this may sound old-fashioned, but I still say: Better to read a few great books and absorb them fully than to skim widely. It is not for your information–it is for your formation.
Let Nature be for you a source of inspiration and renewal. (The great lesson of Thoreau’s Walden.)
Master your opinions. This is the hardest thing to do. But it is the key to recovering your life. Read the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: “Begin the morning by saying to yourself: I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly. I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry, nor hate.”
Step by step, you will free yourself from the power of others to hurt you, push you around, waste your time, or cause you to waste your own life complaining or nursing grievances. You will have real strength, and whatever your aim in life, the clock will serve you, not you the clock.
Some ideas for your commute:
Audio books: invest in some good ones and savor the joy of learning. Pick up a new language. Explore a new subject. Learn some new jokes or stories. It sure beats watching the clock or cursing your fellow drivers. (I recommend The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant; and there are many good courses on audio CD from The Teaching Company.)
Train your inner strength. Treat the commute as a personal challenge of Patience. Breathe deeply and maintain your sense of calm. If you can succeed in this, you are a triple winner: you are serene in the present moment, you are ready to face the day, and you gain internal strength to bear the vicissitudes that the world throws at you.
Put on your thinking cap. Make a conscious effort to think good thoughts. Your own thoughts. The rest of your day, you might be too busy or distracted to think, but you have a precious moment to spare on your commute. If it helps, put yourself in the role of an observer who is encountering your life for the first time. Be curious, be inquisitive about the life before your eyes!
Activate your commute! You don’t have to take the stress of the commute lying down. Consider walking or riding a bike part of the way (it’s not a longer commute, it’s a more challenging workout!) and taking mass transit the rest of the way, which gives you a breather so you can tackle one of the more mentally active goals mentioned above.
*”I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” -Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Aurelius, Marcus – Meditations
Durant, Will – The Story of Philosophy
Thoreau, Henry David – Walden