Too much, too little.

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Has your relationship with time become completely warped these last few months?

Because mine sure has, and it’s not feeling so good as of late. And this goes beyond the foggy, confused, what day/week/month is it even, which I am certainly experiencing.

I feel as if I’m about to have a breakthrough with my relationship with time, but I’m that part pre-breakthrough, where everything… pretty much sucks. Where your issues feel more heightened than they ever have before. Where it’s all you can think about.

This all arises because I’ve recently realized I have a, ah… let’s say, fraught relationship with time. I came to this knowing in two ways. One, in my Introduction to Intentional Living course, I teach one module where I ask students to track their time and money for a week, and then answer some prompts about their relationship with each afterwards.

I do this because time and money are two of the biggest blockers that pop up in relation to living an intentional life — we use them as excuses for not doing the things we want most. You know what that sounds like: “I can’t quit my job that I passionately hate and that is sucking my soul because it pays well and without it I wouldn’t be able to afford my mortgage.” “I would totally take tennis lessons, I just don’t have the time to do it.” Standard issue excuses.

I teach time and money tracking because I want to encourage agency around both of those things — realizing that you have much more control around each than you might give yourself credit for and you could be using them as crutches for not making bigger decisions that would improve the overall quality of your life and light up your soul.

I also ask students to journal about their relationship to time and money. We want to examine this, because as shown above, if you don’t believe you have or will have enough of either, if you have a ‘negative’ or scarcity mindset around each of those, that there will never be enough time or money, then you won’t be living your life from a place of potential and possibility. There will never be enough so you may as well not do the things you want to, right?

If you have, however, an abundant and trusting relationship with time and money — you have an ability to create more of both, and that is within your power and not reliant on external circumstances — then you can make those bigger, scarier, more joyful choices that do light up your soul.

So I write and develop my course modules and I also do the exercises real-time along with my students because I want to make sure they make sense and it’s also a great way to check in with myself. I tracked my time over an entire week and I can say this: I know what I was doing every single goddamn moment of every single day.

And I was at first pleased by this fact. “I have plotted out every 60 minutes within an each of its life so no time is wasted unintentionally!” I preened to myself. “I am so very intentional and productive!”

The week after, a coaching group I’m in focused on self-worth had a module on ‘pleasure.’ Befitting my productivity-oriented mindset, I skipped the group call that week to do a work call. Afterwards, the coach asked me to question my relationship with pleasure and time and obligation. “One thing I have noticed about you in the little time we have spent together is that structure and rules are important to you. it makes sense why even in things that offer you pleasure, you tend to create strictness and projects, etc. do you think that’s accurate?” she wrote.

“It feels to me like there is a lot of tightness in your life,” she added.

I internally lashed out at that last statement. My automatic reaction was “How dare she — what does this woman know about me, really?”

And because I am also a coach, I understood this at the same time: my defensive reaction meant she had hit on really something very sensitive, close to home, and true about me.

I wrote back to her how I noticed that free time gave me a deep sense of unease, and it has for a long time. When faced with a weekend of no plans, I don’t feel elated as many people might, I feel wary, and my brain goes directly to how I can best use that time. Most of my weekdays are spent like this, too. Every minute must be optimized. I wrote this:

“I’m still mulling everything that the pleasure module brought up for me, especially how pleasure and time and busyness all seem to be interconnected for me. I was talking with a friend about the fact that I must be afraid in some ways of having extra time, because I sure do my best to constantly fill it up or schedule it. Then I wondered, why would I be afraid of having time? Isn’t that what people most crave? Isn’t it something I often say I want more of? My friend mentioned she sometimes has a deep sense of unease around unscheduled time which really resonated with me. This led me to wondering why free time makes me feel uneasy. Is it because I feel virtuous when busy and that is a good, comfortable feeling? Is it because when I have free time I would have to connect to my intuition about what would be pleasurable in that moment to do, and that’s something that intimidates me/I don’t have a lot of practice with? Then as I commented in the group sometime this week or last, sometimes it’s hard to even know what genuinely brings me pleasure.”

To me, it ends up in this crux: I am both terrified of not having enough time, and having too much time.

This fear shows up in my body, too, which is something I’ve been become better at tuning in to: it feels like a panicky, tight band around my solar plexus, attended by shallow breathing.

How did I get here, disconnected from pleasure to turn to in moments of free time? How did I move into a situation where I am really the only one to blame for how overscheduled and tight my day-to-day is? Why can’t I seem to better balance the both, doing work that does light me up, vs. natural and necessary obligations, and spare time and how I want to use it, not how I feel I should.

One can look to nature and upbringing of course, which are certainly related to this for me. Did anybody else have a family motto of, “If you’re not 15 minutes, you’re late?” You can also blame our society, productivity-oriented as it is. And so much of my worth as a result is tied to doing, improving, producing.

I still don’t have a full answer to this. It’s an issue in which I will make my way through the layers, circling back and down and up and through for probably the rest of my life.

I also know I tend to get very black and white thinking about it when this time unease and overwhelm comes up for me. I dream about going to a cabin in the woods on sabbatical for six months, talking to nobody except the chickens that magically show up one day for me to raise, and finally spending uninterrupted hours a day working on my book.

And then I know I’d miss the rhythms and routines of daily life, too. The irritating obligations, or some of the harmless time sucks I indulge in now.

But I’m trying something new, this time. I’m trying to take this issue returning to my awareness again as a sign to simply decide: I don’t have to do anything to “fix” it. It’s time to take some of my own advice, perhaps.

My relationship to time is sometimes fraught… and that’s okay. I guide myself into burnout mode on occasion… and that’s okay. I’m not perfect at anything… and that’s okay. There is no such thing as perfection, anyways (which means there is no point in striving towards it)… and that’s okay. I’m still figuring out what brings me pleasure and sometimes I have no idea… and that’s okay.

What is your relationship with time like? Do you, like me, sometimes feel unease or intimated by actually having free time? Is anybody else having this feeling heightened right now due to the pandemic? I must admit it feels deeply strange and slightly shameful to say I fear having more time, in a season where I have more time than ever before, which is of course probably what is bringing it up so strongly. If you resonate with this at all, what do you think that might be about for you? I’d love to hear.

Teaching awakening + healing through vulnerability + self-compassion. Finding hope in a messy world. Author of the Sunday Soother.

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