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Two weeks away from home seems like a really long time, especially in August when almost everyday marks a celebration of a loved one’s birthday or anniversary.  Then there’s the garden where the roses and clematis are just starting to re-bloom. The cucumbers are ripening on the vine and becoming ready for pickling. In August there are lush, ripe vegetables calling out everyday to be picked and eaten. It’s so hard to step away from the beautiful sight of what you spend so much time nurturing and from what nourishes you.

On the other hand, two weeks is not nearly enough time away when you look up from the roses and sense the frenzy of fall chaos rapidly spinning towards you. Is there a way to put the brakes on the flow time?

Yes. Yes, there is. I have found the answer to the problem of time and I’m here now to share that wisdom with the world.

Here’s how to make time slow down to a crawl: schedule yourself a 12-hour bus ride.  Make it an overnight ride leaving at 8:30 p.m. and arriving at the destination at 8:30 a.m.

So that’s the answer.  You’re welcome.  I’ll now give the play-by-play of the experience in case you need to live it vicariously.  I can’t imagine why you would, but hey, it’s your life.

I had no idea how lucky I was the first 4 hours off the trip with all my leg room in the spacious aisle seat and with my silent, sleeping neighbors. Time nearly came to a complete standstill when I found myself on the layover at our first bus stop. To my left a small child bawled in his unsympathetic mother’s lap and to my right an adult woman bawled into her cell phone. Sandwiched in between this much human tragedy I began to question my own life decisions, as one does, at 1:08 a.m. in a Nashville bus station. The stereo sounds of misery abruptly ended a few moments later when a grown man wearing a Burger King crown walked by and belched; it was a sight and sound unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. The burp itself had a sustained reverb that went on for way longer than anything like that ever should and the deep bass notes echoed against the station’s cavern-like walls, floor, and ceiling.  It was so startling that everyone put their suffering on hold to take a moment of stunned silence.  To some degree, the King’s burp was a relief felt by all.

The next leg of the trip I had a window seat and my new found friend, Tall Tom the Talker, had the aisle.  When he wasn’t talking or asking questions, he was asleep and taking up all of his seat and 2/3 of mine. At least he smelled nice. Before this bus ride I had actually bragged to someone about my ability to sleep anywhere. Those words alternately haunted and entertained me as I sat squashed up against the bus wall shivering from the cold. I wiled away the hours staring at the candy wrappers and trash that bygone passengers had crammed into the metal grate below the tinted windows.

At 5:40 a.m. I found myself in Knoxville, where there was less crying and more mullets. One man’s mullet defied the “business in the front, party in the back”  rule.  His mullet’s party crashed rebelliously through the front door of his business. It featured two braided pigtails styled to cascade forward over his shoulders and down his chest nearly to his waist.  He completed his ensemble with a red t-shirt, cut-off blue jean shorts, rainbow socks, and red tennis shoes.

The time warp continued as I stood in line waiting to board the third bus past the time we were supposed to be departing.  On the last leg of the magic bus ride I watched the sun rise over the mountains of North Carolina.  Twelve hours is all that elapsed on that bus ride and there was a time change somewhere along the way so the trip was only 11 hours, technically. But I was awake and present in those 12 hours (yes, 12) and I’m here to tell you eternity was in the felt experience.

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This was the first summer in a bunch of years I didn’t teach a summer course, which freed up a considerable amount of time, energy, and brain power. I know exactly where all that extra time, energy and brain power went because I am still keeping my weird little daily spreadsheet to track the time spent on my goals/resolutions.  For the month of July it went like this:

  • 24 hours PRACTICE MANAGEMENT — This excludes the time spent in sessions with clients. I recently started tracking this because I was curious how much unbillable time I spend doing things for the practice. Now I know.
  • 20 hours DANCING — Teaching, practicing new choreographies, reviving old choreographies. This includes drills, exercises, rehearsals.
  • 16 hours GARDENING –Watering, weeding, harvesting, planting, watching butterflies, cutting flowers. In recent weeks there has been a lot of  violent killing. I have fed literally hundreds of Japanese beetles to the ducks and chickens. I have squashed squash bug daddies and mommas and their babies while cursing their ancestors.  No poison was involved; I didn’t want to accidentally kill the good bugs or bees or do any damage to the birds or frogs, so the violence has been all up-close and personal. It’s a terrible thing and I’m not proud of it, but it happened. This whole garden thing is probably wreaking havoc on my karma. But I give away a good portion of the spoils, so maybe it all balances out?
  • 12 hours RESEARCH for the book I’m writing and 8 hours of WRITING the book. I really need to increase the time spent actually writing.
  • 10 hours COOKING…pickles. Yes, it was all spent making pickles from the garden cucumbers.  I canned some bread-n-butter pickles last Thursday. The horrible squash bugs completely wiped out the squash plants before I became aggressive with them. Now they have found their way to my cucumber plants, so that may be it for pickling this year.
  • 4 hours MEDITATION.

When I showed El-D the spreadsheet last night he said, “Geeze, you could work for the government. The engineers would love you.” They really like spreadsheets too apparently. And then he asked, “How many hours did you spend putting numbers in your spreadsheet?”

Hmph.  A couple seconds a day!  The spreadsheet, as lovely as it is,  isn’t the goal, it’s just a tool to help me understand where my time and attention go. It also gives me insight into how I flow across time.  For example, fifteen minutes of meditation is forever long. Sitting around doing nothing but listening to my own thoughts is horrendous most days. Truly. Sitting down to write at a computer – not much better and sometimes worse. Sitting down to write on paper, doable and sometimes enjoyable, and sometimes absolutely necessary. I flow way differently in the garden. I’ll set a timer inside then step out the door and become completely absorbed by everything until I get hunger pains or it starts raining or somebody shows up and stares at me expectantly, or something else happens that draws me back into a world where there is such a thing as a clock ticking.  Today I disappeared into a game of peek-a-boo with a praying mantis for who knows how long?  Anyway, I guess the point is time is a weird concept. Or maybe it’s that spreadsheets are great.

“You haven’t the time? Time is all you have, your life energy to spend as you will.”

–David Ross

 

Nilla Bean, in a rare moment of stillness

 Ти́ше е́дешь — да́льше бу́дешь. 

 (Translation:  The quieter you go, the further you’ll travel.)

–Russian proverb

~~@~~

Be still and know that I am God.

–Psalms 46:10

~~@~~

To cultivate joy it is good to begin by tending the mind’s garden. How do you get rid of those pesky weeds? Meditation works.

For two weeks at the ashram we sat in silent meditation twice a day.  Shy person that I tend to be, I had no problem with the silent part. And I can sit still. I didn’t make a peep, but my mind was anything but quiet…

 How boring. What a waste of time. I had to get out of bed before dawn for this!? That lady is guzzling her water down like a Viking.  Shouldn’t she be meditating? I thought we’d be doing more yoga! What exactly is supposed to be happening here…? What is the point of this! When I get out of here, I oughta — was that a rooster?! Hamburger!

I’m a busy, buzzy person.  I like to be doing things. When I do sit down, I’m reading, thinking, dreaming, planning, remembering, creating, wanting, needing, hoping, composing…well, you get the picture. There’s a lot going in this head.

So what does sitting around doing absolutely nothing accomplish?

Well, nothing!  Which is quite a lot.

You can observe what’s going on in your own mind when the immediate external distractions, competitions for attention, and agendas of others are eliminated.

Consider how much energy is expended on the everyday demands of family, friends, work, and various other obligations.  Be sure to factor in the electronic (e-mail, texts, TV, radios, telephones, computers) distractions….

I discovered that my mental energy was being scattered all over the place in a myriad of unproductive ways.  Furthermore, what was on my own mind was not pretty. I was a grumpy, judgmental, out of control mess – and my ego was NOT happy to see itself. After the first week of regular practice, my mind slowly began to unwind and defragment.  The key word here is began.  It was enough to recognize the value of the practice and to make the time for it in my daily routine.

Note: Time is a funny little non-thing. If looking for time you will never find it.  If you want time, you will make it.  If the path of mastery is defined by where you direct your attention, it’s a good practice to take stock of where your attention is and where is it not.

It is possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive sense of relaxed control.

–David Allen

Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.

–Zen Proverb

~~*~~

This past semester I have taken a whole new “zen” approach to my work-life. While I am still doing the academic equivalent of chopping wood and carrying water, I am doing it a lot more these days with a smile on my face and mind more focused on the present. Some good books and a few well-designed apps have facilitated this process. I will tell you all about the apps later.  For now, here are a couple of the books.

This fall I read Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
by David Allen (recommended by The Couch Manager).  The organization methods in this book are helpful in creating a system that captures your projects, plans, and ‘todo’ lists in such a way that you can, well get things done more efficiently and with less stress.  It is not a particularly thrilling read, but I am here to testify that if you implement the principles, it works.

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich (Expanded and Updated)
by Timothy Ferriss (another recommendation from The Couch Manager) is both practical and thrilling.  It has influenced my thinking about work, particularly in the domain of mobility.  I travel regularly between two states, so I need the ability to do what needs doing in an organized and efficient way wherever I happen to find myself at the moment.

Ferriss is, in a word, pragmatic.  I like that about him. His book offers a wealth of information, tips, and tricks to get your work-life manageable and automated so you can free up your mind (and time) to accomplish more of your goals.  He explains that one key component of this process is “cutting out counterproductive distractions by eliminating artificial needs.”  Those artificial needs will, of course, differ for everyone – from updating your Facebook status several times a day to checking email hourly, etc.  Once I realized for myself exactly how much time was wasted on digital distractions, I tweaked my own routine considerably.  I took his advice and began processing time-sapping things (e.g., email) in batches a couple times a week rather than daily.  The benefit here is that it saves time and keeps the mind focused. One caveat is that it may irritate students and colleagues who check their email every five minutes and expect you to do the same. It is a risk well worth the benefits as far as I am concerned.

Another tip he suggests to free up time is “outsourcing” portions of your work-life. Outsourcing is all the rage these days according to authors like Thomas L. Friedman (The World is Flat) and A.J. Jacobs (The Guinea Pig Diaries). While I appreciate and admire the work of these fellas, I decided to blaze my own trail here to keep more in line with my budding ‘buy local’ value system and to take advantage of my existing resources. Thus, I decided to in-source instead by making more efficient use of my indentured servant.  She’s rapidly developing mad Excel skillz while helping me becoming increasingly organized. Next week we take over the world! (in a very peaceful, zen-like way).

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