Friday, June 18, 2010

Stockpiling Free Time

I’ve heard it said that every day you need half an hour of quiet time for yourself, or your Self, unless you’re incredibly busy and stressed, in which case you need an hour. I promise you, it is there. Fight tooth and nail to find time, to make it. It is our true wealth, this moment, this hour, this day.

It seems we can’t make up our mind, vacillating between technology as the demise of society and advertising hype about the latest gadget that not only will organize your life but also will make your bed and brush your teeth.  There are articles for Digital addiction alongside iPad reviews, debates on the perils of electronic communication that ironically need to be read on your laptop.  I find myself nodding affirmatively as I read commentary on the increasing isolation of Americans, rolling my eyes at the adjacent table all busy texting while they eat, and glaring at the woman sitting next to me in synagogue who attempts nonchalance while blackberry messaging during silent prayers.

And yet, I pocket my own blackberry when I take my dog for walks, and cross my iPod, laptop, and cell phone off my packing list for the weekend.  I read about gadgets that offer time management aid, efficiency, and increased productivity paired with the news that we are less productive and more distractible than ever before.  That’s great. 

In terms of digital addiction, its one of the few that I seem to have escaped…so far. I try to remember the sanctity of human contact, and turn my phone to silent when in the company of friends.  I remind myself that my gizmos are for my convenience and not so that I can be on-call 24 hours a day.  I train myself to sit still at the blip of a text message, and gently pick up my eraser to wipe away the ensuing anxiety of the crucial prompt response.

It was only twenty years ago that my definition of a portable phone was the large black bag my father carried when he was on-call at the hospital, an awkwardly heavy tool that allowing patient consultations from the movie theater rather than rushing down to the office.  Pagers were hinted at businessmen and doctors, the vibrating sound my pavlovian bell of plans cancelled and pause buttons hit. I timed my long-distance calls to cousins, parental cautions of expensive minutes trailing after me.  We got our first computer when I was 8; an Apple IIGS, that sat in my bedroom, as I was the only one who knew how to use it.  We played “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego” and printed greeting cards on paper with holey edges. At 16, the minivan had a ‘car phone’ that stayed mounted on the dash and was to be used “ONLY FOR EMERGENCIES”, coming in handy when my geographically-challenged self took ‘scenic routes’ home at night. We didn’t Google or MapQuest.  There were no Garmin GPS devices.  There was mom and glove-compartment maps and directions at gas stations.  And lots of ‘scenic’ trips.

I'm not a Luddite, don’t write on a typewriter or even have a landline.  I don’t think technology is out to kill us or that cell phones will ignite our extinction. I say a prayer of thanks every time my GPS can successfully untangle my wrong turns, although it’s a love-hate relationship as she often induces unintended ‘scenic trips’ as well. Long-distance now refers only to actual locations and the ability to call my brother in New York and catch up regardless of ‘peak hours’ perches on my gratitude list. I smile at the ‘Just Thinking About You’ text messages and the ease of replying to emails while sitting in a waiting room.  I rely on task alerts that beep with “Buy apples”, “Call Julie”, and “Write Now!” although most of the time I move them to later, later, later, until, alas, they slide over to tomorrow, wisps of the false satisfaction of an empty To-Do list. I string my musings on my laptop, and add off-key accompaniment to my iPod playlists. I admit to skipped heartbeats during power failures and Internet outages, not so much out of practical fear but rather due to the stillness that drops its silence on my day.

 Sitting still is hard work.  With no movies to watch, no blogs to read, no articles to write, no friends to call, I am left with a brain that nudges toward action as my worries crank up the volume.  In the absence of electric attention vacuums, I fill my time with new tasks, new errands to run, more shelves to dust, and puppies to brush.  It’s not the 'finding time' that’s my challenge, but rather how to unfold in loose minutes, be buoyed by free floating hours, and relax in open spaces.   I have mastered silencing my phone during play dates and refraining from texting while driving.  While I tote my blackberry security blanket on afternoon walks, I can ignore the beeps with minimal effort.  My TV screen lights up very rarely, and my iPod headphones were lost months ago.  I try to pick and choose where and how I incorporate new gadgets, attempting conscious use rather than addiction reliance.

I agree that we all need to unplug, turn from the screen to the sun, stretch our thumbs and utilize the mute button on the buzz of advancement.  I champion meals serving witty debate and laughter, where phones stay in pockets and side dishes exclude facebook posts from the recipe. I believe we need to prioritize connection, leave our extension cords at home, and let the emails marinate in the inbox.  I believe we need to strip off the bells and whistles, uncover the essentials, and utilize technology for convenience.  I believe we need to let hugs trump texts, and allow laughter to be our jackpot.  I believe the minutes we sweep aside with the entire gadget induced efficiency; the true challenge is being still.

What do you do with your hypothetical ‘extra’ free time? Do you stroll in parks and make wishes on daisy petals? Do you explore museums or historic sites? Do you sink into plush relaxation and wander amidst childhood memories? Do you flip pages in novels while absently stroking furry companions?

Or are you like me, and find yourself wondering who is stealing all of your extra minutes? Do you follow my lead and run preemptive errands, as if you could buy the apples today that you won’t need until next week? Do you try to stockpile free time, deluding yourself that mopping an extra time today buys you a freebie next week? My struggle is stepping away from the lists and soaking in the silence.  After I have found the time, I tend to squander it on background noise.  I need help recognizing the gem of loose moments, training myself to list sitting as an accomplishment. I stick post-It notes on mirrors as reminders that it is only in the silence that my soul can be heard. I read my owner’s manual, searching for my brain’s power switch, the SPAM setting I can switch to high. I count seconds of calm, using still waters as meditation for self-connection.

I always find time to do the mundane and practical.  I might claim self-care and relaxation as priorities, but based on actions, I am a proven liar.  I need to turn off my gadgets and my frenzy.  I need to silence my phone alongside my fears, unplug my laptop and dissolve mindless action.  I need to find time to cultivate joy, to deepen faith, to connect to community. I might stumble amidst flashy ads and visions of libraries stored in a 4 inch device. I might need blinders to bypass the siren songs for newer, better, faster. I might trip over hollow promises adored with neon lights, forgetting that the time-sucking ability outweighs the benefits.

Technology is a distraction for me, but it is no match for the distraction of my own mind.  So I practice.  I practice shutting down gadgets and exhaling into stillness.  I soothe my worries and add “Find Time” to my daily alerts. I practice sight recognition, searching for peace, quiet, calm in the crowd. I practice using time to locate my dreams, my humanity, and my spirituality.  I work on smelling opportunities and painting goals in red.

I find time to just be, without gadgets or gizmos, racing thoughts or fears.  I find time to live my life.

Subscribe by Email

No comments:

Post a Comment