Focused Time

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We’re given twenty-four hours in each day. One thousand, four hundred and forty minutes. Not one second more or less. We know that, and yet sometimes without noticing that we’re doing it, we contaminate parts of our day by thinking and doing things that don’t serve us well or that interrupt us and keep us from what we truly want and need.

Join me this week as we consider how to keep from contaminating our time as we stay more in the present.

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Imagine stopping in the middle of the day to catch your breath. You tell yourself you’re just going sit down with a cup of tea and relax as you enjoy a few undisturbed minutes alone. But first, you “need” to check your emails and answer several of them. Then you “need” to search for something online, which leads to something else, which leads to something else, which leads to yet something else, and so on down the rabbit trail. And after that, you “need” to answer a couple of text messages.

“No big deal! It’ll only take a few seconds,” you tell yourself.

But, the next thing you know, an hour has gone by and you haven’t relaxed at all—not for a minute. And somehow, you never got around to brewing the tea you promised yourself.

The simple truth is that you contaminated the time you were going to spend relaxing by doing things that could easily have waited. As you engaged in them, each of those things took further you out of the relaxed moment, robbing you of your original intention.

And let’s not limit this to taking a break. We can just as easily contaminate a conversation or having a meal or practicing the piano or performing at work if we allow things to distract us and interrupt being present.

There’s no question that we live in an age of constant busy-ness and restlessness. I get it. Yet, when we’re not intentional about it, we can easily set time traps that get in the way of our own welfare. And in the name of what? Habit? Efficiency? Keeping up? Productivity? Avoidance? Or does the reason even matter?

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 photo: Scott Lennox


So, let’s go back and take another pass at the break you wanted.

Imagine going back to that moment. You decide to stop what you’re doing and take a few moments to be with yourself—time to rest and restore and recharge and refocus. But this time, instead of distracting yourself, you set aside all your electronic devices and your to-do list.

This time, instead of contaminating the time you spend, you give yourself whatever amount of time you choose and do what you really want, without rushing or shifting your focus. This time, allowing your breathing to slow down a little, you give yourself all the time you need to let your mind casually wander and then settle on its own. Nothing else matters right now. Not even the mental foot-tapping that keeps urging you to “Hurry Up!”

Since you’re the one in charge, you can let that impatience go right past you and keep going.

Notice that as you allow yourself to slow down, your body relaxes and your mind and heart return to being gently focused. From that intentional and enlivening place, you’re more at peace and interestingly, more aware. As a bonus, when you decide to go back to the things you choose to do, you’ll actually get more done.

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One of the ways to stop contaminating time is to notice the things (including habits of thought) that we’ve been putting in our own way. What do you know about that repeated urge to interrupt what you’re doing? What’s causing it? Where did it come from? If it had a voice, who’s would it be? (Here’s a hint: It’s probably not your own.)

Without question, I’m a self-confessed “jitterbug,” moving through any number of things throughout the week and getting tons of things accomplished. I sit with clients in on-line counseling sessions. I write and draw and paint. I play music. I produce these newsletters and podcasts. I write the inspirational meditations I send out to a hundred and fifty people every morning. I make time for conversations with friends. The list goes on.

I’m quite fortunate and deeply grateful to be living a full and wonderful life!

However, if I’m not careful, I find myself unconsciously giving in to the silent “voice” in my head that says that I’m not doing enough and that being still is not allowed. I can’t say for sure whose voice it is or where I first acquired it. That part doesn’t really matter to me. What matters is that it is not authentically mine and that when I follow it, the most consistent outcome is a sense of anxiety or urgency.

The growth step came when I began to notice it and quietly tell that voice, “Nope!” as I allow myself to go into what I call “conscious neutral” several times a day. Conscious neutral has nothing to do with emails or text messages or reading a book or watching something on the web. It’s about doing nothing other than being still and remaining aware that you’ve chosen to do it.

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As a playful practice, it might be interesting to take part of your day—fifteen or twenty minutes, at least—and set everything else aside. Consciously allow yourself to stay present with your body, present with what you’re feeling emotionally, and present with your mind’s way of expressing itself.

Remember that you’re a compassionate observer to your own experience, not a critic. From a loving and self-accepting place, notice your experience and allow yourself to be right where you are, without pushing back from it or over-indulging in it. Then, before you move on to other things, notice any shift or change in your experience.

It’s really that simple.

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This week’s three Beautiful Questions are designed to make the process of staying present a little easier. As you do, you will naturally “decontaminate” your time.

One: Whether you’re working or taking a break or having a conversation or doing something else entirely, what things typically distract you and take you out of the moment?

Two: What single guiding thought will help keep you more gently focused on being right where you are?

Three: As the time in your day becomes less and less contaminated, what gentle changes do you notice in yourself?

As always, I look forward to hearing from you as you sit with these considerations. Write and tell me about it.

As I say each week,
My Light with Your Light,

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