It was only about three years ago that I realized it wasn’t possible to “waste” time. I am not going to launch into a diatribe about “time” not existing (I’ll leave that to the modern Einsteins and the plethora of recent gurus) because for all use and purposes in this life on Earth, time passes. It’s true: time passes at apparently different speeds depending on the mental state, circumstances and age of the subject experiencing it. For instance, up until about the age of sixteen time went very slowly as I awaited anxiously the next exciting event in my life (a birthday, Christmas, vacations, the first day of school, dinner time, a cousin’s visit, a boyfriend’s phone call, the dance Saturday night, etc.) Then, around sixteen something happened… No. I take it back. It really began happening at age eleven but I only became conscious of it at sixteen.
The moment it happened was so important, unknown and earth shaking that I remember exactly where I was and what the day was like. It must have been a weekend because my father was home, and towards the afternoon because the sun’s rays were slanting in through the window of my bedroom. I was sitting on the stool in front of my white dressing table, looking out the window at the trees that bordered the garden. I remember there was silence or at least what happened then took place in a silence that was inexpressible. Time stopped and I was overcome by a feeling of such profound expansion and gratitude (or was it love? Is there a difference?) that tears of absolute joy sprung from my eyes and poured down my cheeks. I realized in that instant with all my being that I was alive. It was a moment of absolute Beingness experienced by consciousness for the first time, and the experience was over and above anything that had happened to me previously. For one instant, Life and I were the same thing, absolute, unending, inexpressible. And then, as suddenly as it had come, it went, and from the elevated throes of absolute joy I was plunged to the abysmal depths of despair as I has the immediate and unwavering knowledge of my inevitable death. I was eleven and there was no doubt: I was doomed to die.
The absolute certainty of both experiences was devastating and I ran crying to my father. In between sobs, I babbled out my experience as best I could: the joyful certainty of my life and in the same instant, the terrifying certainty of my death. My father was an incredible man. He understood. He nodded his head and said “yes”, that he too had experienced the same thing and had, in his attempt to catch the experience, written a story with a tree as a protagonist. He wrapped his arms around me and we sat for a while with my face nuzzled into his neck, smelling the gentle aroma of Old Spice, until the crying subsided and the unequivocal sharpness of the experience faded into ordinary day-to-day consciousness. Living once more took over.
Yet today, more than 56 years later, I can still evoke perfectly the emotions of that eleven year old, and even observe that it wasn’t then when time began to speed up. It wasn’t really until I reached sixteen that my perception of time started to race ahead of my capacity to “use” it productively. At sixteen, of course, I believed I had reached the decision of what I wanted to “make” of my life: I wanted to be a writer; I wanted to be famous and applauded, and loved, to write marvelous and exciting books that people would snap up. I wanted to become a bestselling author, I wanted to be the modern Virginia Woolf and be adored as I adored her through her books. Of course, once this realization took hold, it suddenly seemed that time was so scarce it would never be enough to learn all I had to learn, and write all I had to write and do everything I had to do. And I faced what seemed to me to be Reality in that moment: THERE WAS NEVER GOING TO BE ENOUGH TIME if I wasted it.
So, suddenly, after drifting though sixteen years in what I can today recognize as a form of la-la land, I awoke to the realization that there was no time to lose and this realization defined my life from sixteen to sixty which, of course, had definite consequences in my life style. It meant there was no time for sleeping any more than necessary (going to bed postponed until wee hours of the morning and getting up never later than 7); no time for shopping (minimum necessary for survival with strict list in hand, no window-shopping, no drifting past counters, no idling over decisions); no sunbathing or lolling about in the pool or the ocean (in and out quickly only if absolutely necessary, dry, dress and continue with real life); no more time for horseback riding, or going to the movies, or just sitting and gazing out the window. There was barely time for eating (especially breakfast). Definitely no time for napping (coffee double strength after gulping down a meal), or getting sick (aspirin, antibiotics, anything to not stop; I remember fainting one morning while I prepared breakfast because I was inadvertently running a fever of over 100ºF). There was no time for vacations (in 30 years of marriage I think we went away twice and then only for a weekend during which I took at least 10 books I had to read and a large spiral notebook to be filled with jottings for future books). There was no time for parlor games or entertaining children, or going to the park. There was no time to sit and watch the little ones grow.
Of course, there was no way to get around housework and parenting chores, but I did them in a hurry, using a minimum of time, usually at the last minute and always in a bad mood because of having to “waste” my time on menial tasks. No time for daydreaming or sports (golf which was my mother’s passion, or sailing like my father) or simple lolling around. Having an afternoon coffee with friends was a no-no; going to a social gathering definitely for the birds, and relaxing into a chat on the phone not acceptable. There was just NO TIME TO WASTE. Hadn’t my grandmother said “Waste not, want not”? She might have referred to money, but I was determined to do it in relation to time.
Nevertheless, no matter how much I rushed around racing from one “important” and “productive” activity to the next, I never seemed to have enough time. By nightfall I was usually exhausted and frustrated. Is it a wonder I took to drink (but only in the evenings when the husband came home; perhaps it was a way to quiet the voice that kept telling me that time spent conversing with my hubbie was actually “wasted”)? Now that I think about it, the only “pleasurable” activities that I allowed myself were drinking and eating. It is a miracle that I survived at all and much more so that I actually reached sixty. And then, at the age of sixty I understood!
It was no accident that I finally saw the light. Life had generously put me in an eight-year relationship with a man whose passion was first doing nothing and then resting. Life to him was pleasure and pleasure was spending two hours going between the Jacuzzi and the pool, and then taking a steam bath to top it off. What to do? I fell passionately in love with this incredible lazy bum (according to my I-have-no-time-to-waste book of life) and immediately realized that in order to be with him I would have to wallow in the Jacuzzi, float lazily in the pool to cool off, and snuggle in the steam bath (my friends said that instead of wrinkles I was going to get scales).
When we weren’t doing those aquatic non-sports (if sports were a waste of time, non-sports were the non-plus-ultra of wastefulness: my grandmother must have been turning over in her grave), we were slouching in bed, popping popcorn into our mouth and watching a movie; or (oh, god! I can’t believe I did this) going gung-ho over a boxing match. It had to be love at that extreme.
Our most “active” entertainment was strolling down the aisle of a supermarket, leaning lazily on the cart’s push-bar and filling the insides with products that we neither needed nor –many times- used. Sometimes a whole Sunday would consist of this followed by hours of Rummy Q or dominoes (game in which I went from losing every time to never letting him win). We saved the actually strenuous stuff for trips abroad that were dedicated to hard-time shopping, speedy sightseeing and racing at 180kms/hour down broad European highways. Once we even lay around for three days on my brother’s sail boat while he and his wife sailed us from Mallorca to Fomenter and back. Needless to say, I stopped writing.
However, once this relationship ended sadly but peacefully, I went immediately back to taking advantage of every minute and not “wasting” time. Given the fact that I was at the time 59, this practice took on an even more urgent character. But the contrast between the delightful hours spent with my “love” doing nothing, and the hectic need to suddenly return to doing “everything” and rapidly, did its job and I realized I was neither happy nor fulfilled, so when a friend (and I didn’t have time for many) sent me an invitation to attend a weekend workshop that promised to end all the “stress and violence” in my life, I decided to go.
What I learned (and have continued to practice since then) was to question the thoughts and beliefs that produced stress in my life, and guess which one was the first: “I shouldn’t waste time”. It went like this:
I shouldn’t waste time, is that true? “Yes”
I shouldn’t waste time, can I absolutely know that it’s true? “Hmmm, no.”
I shouldn’t waste time, how do I react when I believe that thought? “Like a chicken without a head, racing from one thing to the next, stressed out, frustrated, irritated, angry at the world and at anyone who might seem to be wasting my time, including husbands and children and parents and friends.”
I shouldn’t waste time, who would I be without that thought? (As I tried to imagine my life without that thought, something in my chest opened wide, I felt peace and excitement all rolled in one. It felt really good). “I would be happy and fulfilled just living in this moment” was the answer.
Interestingly enough, I found that second experience much truer. When I looked at the opposite of “I shouldn’t waste time” I should waste time, I could really find that affirmation much more realistic given the eight years I had just spent “wasting” it in the most delightful, fun-loving, pleasurable, lazy and wonderful ways I had ever experienced. And given THAT, could I really believe that I had “wasted” any time at all during those eight years. ABSOLUTELY NOT!
Since then I gladly “waste” my time writing vignettes that I have no definite intention of publishing anywhere but on this Blog. Thank you very much.