When my office was in a downtown environment, I always thought I was good at managing time during time with a client. I used to surprise myself how I could keep an appointment to two hours or one hour. Then I let go of the office and began seeing people in my home. My time management flew away! I had no ability to keep the appointment on track within a certain time limit. I could not understand what was so different. The information I took during the interview had not changed, nor had the physical exams I do. Then one day a client said to me, it sure is good not to have the parking meter ticking away down on the street when I come to see you! Then I knew, it was not some innate ability I had to keep an appointment on tract, it was the awareness of parking meters and the penalty of a parking ticket that kept the appointment on time.
For example, in the spring, winds arrive. There will be one gusting wind that will blow many branches off the poplar balsam trees. In the morning after the big wind, branches with buds oozing resin can easily be picked from the ground to make medicine with. Some people pick their poplar buds in the middle of winter. The resin (the medicine) is then hard and not such a sticky mess to work with. I prefer to gather my buds from the ground, after the big wind. Then I like to think it is the trees showing me which buds to gather. Letting go of the branches in the big wind the poplar offers herbalists medicine without needing to use her knife. The challenge is one never knows when the big wind will blow. It might be on the day you have to meet with your bookkeeper to finalize your taxes. Or it might be during Easter when you have a house full of family and you are cooking a big dinner. Nature’s time and linear time often conflict and this conflict is something the herbalist needs to balance.
One more note about nature’s time. Healing takes place on nature’s time. Birthing and death also take place on healing time. Trying to fit any of these three major life event into linear time complicate things quickly. Trying to make healing, birthing or death fit a schedule slows processes down. Its like picking medicine before the medicine is ready, you just should not do it. Why would you? (This is not a rhetorical question.)
I have a difficult relationship with linear time. I dislike the feeling of being pushed about by a clock and a schedule. Sometimes I think of linear time as the thief of joy. Too much time spent in linear time stresses me out! When I have time, I relax into timelessness and strangely feel I have more time.
People for a very long time have lived with nature’s time, preforming life-giving activities according to moon, day/night and seasonal cycles. It was only after we moved into cities and began to work in factories that time was broken into small measurable units like seconds and minutes. Time became something traded for money. Over time, we began to think of time as a “real” thing, a commodity. We use expressions like having time, spending time and wasting time.
Not all cultures have the same relationship with time. My Blackfeet friend, Tanya, gave me a teaching on Indian Time. I have found this teaching very useful. Indian time can be a very derogative (almost racist) expression suggesting the First Nation peoples are irresponsible and lazy because of their lack of respect for linear time. But Tanya explained Indian Time like this to me, “It’s about doing the thing that is most important in the moment.” She went on to explain that when the willow is ready to pick in the spring, it is more important for her to do that then show up for the book club meeting. Or if an elder is dying, it is more important for the healer to be with the elder than to be at the conference he is schedule to speak at.
Indian Time is a bit like Nature’s times.
I have tried to live with doing what is most important in the moment. Of course this has challenged my priories? Or what I thought were my priories.
Once when I was having difficulty “managing” time, a friend told me about a Buddhist practice done to learn about time. He suggested every time I think about something I do it. Oh I thought at the time, “That is impossible. I am always thinking about something to do!” But I tried it. Instead of thinking about returning phone calls, doing dishes, taking the dog for a walk, making an appointment to get my hair cut, getting the birthday card in the mail, talking to Mark about the ping in the car, etc. and etc. I practiced doing it! Strange as it sounds, I suddenly had a lot more time and was thinking a lot less.
Both, doing what is most important and foremost in your mind, can change your relationship with time.
Keeping your enemy is a useful expression to healers. It is important that you learn as much as you can about the person and the condition they struggle with before offering healing advice, if the advise is to be useful.
As I said, I have a difficult relationship with time. When I have a difficult relationship, I take the advise of a Zen master and “Keep your enemy close.”
It is always difficult to offer a definitive meaning for a Zen expression. There is other definitive about Zen. But for the expression “keep your enemy close” this is my interpretation.
When we don’t like something, we try to get rid of it immediately! This often causes more problems. Just take a look at the garbage (in particular plastic) crisis on this planet. Obviously throwing away garbage is not working. It is still in our midst causing much pain and suffering. Throwing away what you don’t like is not “keeping your enemies close.”
“Keeping your enemy close” means you learn everything about your enemy gain an understanding of the interdependence of the difficult relationship. It is only when with understanding that change can happen. For example, if we really understood the challenges of plastic in a meaningful way, we would probably return to carry things in baskets and clay pots. The same is true with our cultures difficult relationship with time.
So before you try to change how you live with time, learn how you live with time. Perhaps some of these questions and exercises will help you in “keeping your enemy close.”
Over the next month:
Notice how you talk about time.
How do you respond to time limitations?
How do you feel when there are no limits on your time?
Consider how your family and different family members use time and feel about time.
Are you always early? Why?
Are you frequently late? Why?
Try being early or being late.
Do you eat, sleep and have sex on time?
How does being on hold on the telephone affect your awareness of time?
How does different types of waiting affect you?
What do you do while you wait?
When do you first notice time in your day?
Spend a couple of days moving slowly. Walk slower, drive slower, eat slower, shower slower, etc.
Spend a couple of days moving quickly.
How does movement affect your relationship with time?
Stop every hour and notice what you are doing. Why are you spending your time in this way?
How do you judge yourself for the way you use time?