Buddha Standard Time: Awakening to the Infinite Possibilities of Now

with Lama Surya Das

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Many of us feel that the modern efforts to save time have backfired, bringing onerous new problems of their own. Our technological advances and constant availability have blurred the line between leisure time and work. No sooner do we wrap our minds around a new computer program than it becomes obsolete. We can end up wasting precious minutes stuck on the phone with someone on the other side of the world, trying to figure out how to reset the computer brain in our dryer, or stove, or espresso machine. It takes time to learn how to do online banking, connect with friends on Facebook, master the complexities of smartphones and GPS units, and download a best seller to our e-readers. When Excel crashes and the work is lost after we’ve spent an hour entering data for a deadline, our blood pressure skyrockets. There’s even technology to fix stress created by technology. I recently learned of an experimental Google feature called Email Addict that shuts you out of your inbox, forcing compulsive e-mail checkers to give it a break.

Don’t get me wrong. I think we’re living in an amazing age, as miraculous and futuristic as anything out of Star Trek and Jetsons episodes of my youth. I love being able to talk on my laptop face-to-face with someone on the other side of the world or to download a book or piece of music in a minute. The problem for a lot of us is figuring out how to disconnect from all this intensity for some peace and quiet. And how much of the time-related stress in our lives comes from trying to accommodate every single person who wants a piece of our day? Do you suffer from the “disease to please,” striving to satisfy all those who make a claim on your time? Many of us are torn between the desire to be generous with our time and the need to conserve our own energy. It takes only a few seconds to read a 140-character Twitter message, but the cost of the total distraction lasts far longer. The thinner we spread ourselves, the more we skitter over the surface of our lives, never going deep. And since we can be tracked down just about anywhere, anytime, it seems there is literally no escape.

In the pages that follow, I’ll teach you how to wean yourself from the addictions that sap time and energy, to clear out all the debris and distraction—in much the same way that a snow globe becomes calm and clear when you stop shaking it and allow the flakes to settle. You’ll see, for example, that we can stay at our desks or in a traffic jam and, however momentarily, genuinely give our attention to the present moment as a way of finding inner peace.

I want to show you how to coexist peacefully with the inevitable, the inexorable march of time. As a Buddhist, I’ve long studied the question of how to live authentically and joyfully in the present moment, and how to remain mindful, centered, and harmonious no matter what challenges come my way.

In a way, Buddhism is a profound study in time and time management, because the better you manage your mind and spirit, the less hold time has on you. Every moment can be lived fully, free and unconditioned, and every moment holds infinite possibilities and opportunities for a fresh start. Every moment of heightened consciousness is precious beyond price, for awareness is the primary currency of the human condition. Buddhism for me is a study in how to live fully and authentically, not only in our earthly time zone, but in what I call Buddha Standard Time—the dimension of timeless time, wholly now.

Excerpted from the introduction of Buddha Standard Time.

Lama Surya Das is a Western Buddhist meditation teacher and scholar, and one of the main interpreters of Tibetan Buddhism in the West.

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thochscheid's picture

I just started the book last night. The first chapter spoke to me. Particularly the part about the attorney who couldn't find time to meditate. I am an attorney, I can tell you I made a conscious choice to make time to enjoy the world around me, to meditate and to take breaks from the time sensitive nature of my job. I also use my weekend time to connect with nature. My husband and I have learned that enjoying a slower existence on the weekend makes my work weeks less stressful. My biggest issue is how to do this within an industry obssessed with selling time, not to mention the constant grasping for the next fee, client and then avoidance of the stress associated with this behavior. How do you exist in peace with the negativity that surrounds you and the pressure asserted on you by deadlines, unreasonable clients, large egos of other attorneys and the constant suffering all around you? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Lama Surya Das's picture

That's the issue, isn't it? How to exist sanely and even beautifully amidst the all pressure and competition of work, personal life, stress and suffering in the world etc.?.

I bow to you and your dear husby for keeping it together and valuing quality time on the weekends. Keep up the good relationship work.
Time is life, and life is time; we squander time at our peril. Killing time deadens ourselves. Time is an endangered natural resource.

It's important I believe to make the most of each day and every moment, by being fully aware and consciously attentive to it, authentically opening our good hearts and awakening our luminous minds, by being fully engaged in it. This is about awareness in the present moment. Then every day is a good day, and every moment perfect as it is, being liking and disliking, happiness and sadness; this is where genuine meaning, contentment and fulfillment can be found. By tuning into true nature wherever you are, inside or outdoors, alone, with others, and otherwise. Befriend yourself, befriend the whole world. Take responsibility for the choices you make every day, about how u spend your time, at work, at home, in the natural world.

pmcrae's picture

I just started and am on the first chapter. I had a good opportunity to practice the Big Sky excercise yesterday afternoon when I went to pick apples in a friend's orchard. She was finished picking so I found a seat and leaned back to take in the sky. First thing I noticed was how busy the sky was with birds - I sat for a few minutes taking it in breathing deep and then I heard a gentle plop... A piece of fruit ripening in its own time and dropping off the tree..... wow... that seemed profound... like, relax, things happen at their own pace... (only when I got home did I get the message that I'd missed an important board meeting I was suppose to be at, I'm the secretary, luckily someone covered for me... damn) still working on this time thing!

Lama Surya Das's picture

I sent you that apple, to remind you of two things: One, to Be Here Now and not be lost in daydreaming. And two, to remind you of that important board meeting! Mahatma Gandhi prided himself on being punctual, as a gesture of respect to others. I try to do likewise.

Another lesson in our story today is that no one is indispensable. Even blowing off that meeting was not the end of the world, and one of your colleagues stepped in. Life is not just a to do list after all. Now and then, we can afford to step off the treadmill of existence and stop running--under the momentum of our own habitual conditioning-- take a fresh breath or three, and look around.

lleach's picture

Hi, Lama Das

I am reading and enjoying your book. I most appreciate the discussions relating to brain research. I'm kind of a technical guy.

I have a question about a statement in chapter 3, ""feel more relaxed going west to east against the energy of the sun and atmosphere". As you'll probably surmise from the question I am of the left-brain pesuasion you mention. I do indeed find west-bound air travel more tolerable.

I don't understand what you mean by the "energy" allusion. I mostly don't understand it relative to the atmospher because the jet streams travel west to east. I live in the rocky mountains and all of our weather comes to us flowing east from the pacific. Also, if you can refer to any research behind this statement I'd love to follow up on it.

I also wonder if you have research regarding the rythm information, and in particular if there is a research basis for the material on the "Meridian Clock".

Regards,
Larry Leach

aprilf's picture

Thank you. this helped so much! Thank you. I have the book your book Letting go of the person you used to be. I need to re read it. I will be in the moment. I don't want to continue to harm myself. I want to be present.

Lama Surya Das's picture

Let me just throw this out there:

*Nowness-awareness is the ultimate therapy.* When one is totally present-- and I mean totally and incandescently present and lucidly aware-- there is no past (self-story) and no future to worry about, no conditioning, no karma.

You can take this LAMA one-LINER to the bank. No, the banks are becoming unreliable. I'll guarantee right here and now that you can rely on and explore this truth for your own higher interest (rate) and benefit.
For "one moment of total awareness is one moment of freedom and enlightenment", as Manjusri says. As Buddha said, Help yourself.

Dzogchen master Dudjom Rinpoche used to say that "Nowness-awareness is the authentic unfabricated Buddha within."

It's now or never, as all ways. Who can afford to wait?

chrismannolini's picture

Hey,
I was hurt - not physically, but emotionally - at work just on Thursday and I have spent the past two days stewing over what happened. I realise now the majority of hurt was caused by a lot of "selfing" going on on my part. I feel now it's time to let go and shift back into Buddha Standard Time. Your book and words here (and the words of others in the discussion) are helping me already. I offer my gratitude. Thanks.

aprilf's picture

I have been a Buddhist for 10 years and I though I had a lot of karuna, and metta in my heart, but recently I have been betrayed by someone close. I am finding forgiveness difficult. How do I get over this? How do I forgive and move on? I want to be in the present moment and not in the past. I am struggling. Can you help? I should also mention that I am struggling with a heditary chronic illness, and the illness has gotten much worse. My world has gotten smaller. I just finished reading How to be sick, by Toni Bernhard. I am struggling with so much.

I am enjoying Buddha Standard Time. I love the back to nature aspect, and I love knowing that meditation increases gray matter and stabizes our mood. I feel better after I meditate. I just can''t hold on to that.

Thanks

nelierea's picture

April, I thought it might help you, as I find it helps me, to also realize you are not alone. I also am dealing with chronic pain and disability, which is getting worse, and on top of it a huge betrayal by my husband (now no longer my husband) I love Toni Bernhard's book, I have found it really helpful. Mindfulness practice has helped me a great deal in dealing with both the physical pain and the pain of loss (like you, my disability keeps making my world smaller) and betrayal. But also the practice of sending out compassion to those who are also in spots similar to me (as well as myself) I find very helpful. Sometimes alone on my meditation cushion,it is hard to make those others "real"-- I have a hard time seeing how absolutely real and true it is that there are others struggling with the same sorts of issues, So thank you for posting about your struggles and reminding me it is absolutely true we are never alone in whatever emotions or obstacles we are encountering. I will be sending those wishes to you (and all others).

aprilf's picture

Nelierea Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone. You are right sometimes when we are alone, it seems as we are the only ones in our situation. Thank you for reminding me that others are going through the same thing. I hope your health improves. I have being doing Metta practice and tonglen to help myself, and resolve the angry feelings. I am also trying to stay present in the moment. I am taking it one day at a time. I am listening to an audiobook when things fall apart. It is helping. I will be sending you metta as well.

April

nelierea's picture

April, "When Things Fall Apart" is a great book too. I read it 15 years ago, it was my first serious absorption of the dharma and I have always been grateful to what was falling apart in my life back then (entirely different from what is falling apart now) for pointing me in the direction of buddhism. Remembering that makes me wonder what gifts might come out of this period of loss and change that I can't see now. Thank you again, April, Namaste.

Lama Surya Das's picture

Forgiveness isn't easy, but necessary. Eventually. It's something one can work on. Personally, I never advise to forgive and forget, as the adage goes. I far prefer to say, Forgive and Remember-- learn the lessons. Then you won't repeat the same defeatist behavior.

Nowness is the ultimate therapy. This you can be sure of. It pays off to be so incandescently present and aware that there is no past story or future worries and selfing going on.

Rabbi Harold Kushner puts forth a high standard, but an excellent one, methinks. In his book about forgiveness, he says that after two day if you can't forgive, you begin to be part of the perpetration of harm and suffering upon yourself-- through carrying the excess baggage of bitterness and resentment, etc.-- so it's in ones own higher self-interest to learn how and when to healthfully let go and move on.

I have written a book about the virtues of adversity and gaining through loss, including The Pearl Principle-- no inner irritation, no pearl-- and how "illness is the broom that sweeps away negative karma and obscurations," as the Tibetans say. "It's called "Letting Go of the Person You used to Be: Lessons on Change, Loss & Spiritual Transformation."

Good luck! My prayers are with you.

chrismannolini's picture

Hello,
I'm enjoying reading Buddha Standard Time and have just read through everyone's comments above for the first time.

I'm so glad that Lama Surya Das mentions the amazing book by Jill Bolte Taylor, "My Stroke of Insight", which provides an idea of the potential of one's perception and understanding of not just time but space and Life in general, I guess. It's well worth a read.

Mushim's picture

My original Zen teacher, Ven. Samu Sunim, said that meditation is "entering timeless time." When I was a mother of a young and very active child, I often grew impatient, feeling that other people wanted me to "be more productive with my time." I should get a job and put my kid in daycare; I should make more money; I should get a jogging stroller (which I couldn't afford) and jog; and so on. I was 35 when I had Josh, so mostly I was just exhausted with full time child rearing, so I surrendered to it. If it took me 6 months to do something from intention to manifestation, so be it. I breastfed him for 3 years. My house was generally a mess. An eternity of changing diapers, or wrestling him in and out of the car seat, stretched out before me. I worked hard at raising a human being who does seem to have zero percent doubt that he is worthy of love, and capable of loving and who is a self-declared Buddhist, now 22. At one point, when I felt especially impatient at how busy life seemed to be, with not enough time to get things done, I realized that this was all complete delusion. If the phone should ring when my son was away from home, and a voice should tell me that he had been in an accident and had died, which of course can happen, I know for a fact that I would know I had been completely insane not to have understood and lived in the timeless moment of joy that connects to the next timeless moment of happiness that connects to the fulfillment of the life of parenting in the here and now. The Metta Sutta describes that happiness. And it really is real!

Lama Surya Das's picture

This is like a sutra to my ears. Let's call it "The Timelsss MamaSutra" and spread it to mom's and pop's everywhere.

The 101 years young Zen master Sasaki Roshi once said that hugging is a moment of timelessness, and the American meditation; I love that.

Mushim's picture

Dear Lama Surya Das, Thanks for the sutra title. Yeah! Very bizarre that you should quote Zen Master Sasaki Roshi, since I named my son (who is my only child) after him, taking Roshi's Dharma name, Joshu, and adding an "a" to make it "Joshua." I did a Rohatsu sesshin when I was 5-1/2 months pregnant with my son and Roshi gave me the koan, "How do you manifest true nature as baby?" I did my best, and every age was just as good, although "How do you manifest true nature as Terrible Twos and Horrible Fours" really gave me a run for the money. We are now at "How do you manifest true nature as 22 year old computer guy" and the koan is JUST AS GOOD AS IT EVER WAS. I mean, this is a Grade A plus koan... because it points so directly, for me, to timeless time.

Lama Surya Das's picture

Ha, synchronocity (sic)! Yes. good koan work you're doing. The master Sasaki gave me the koan "How do you realize God while driving car?" at a week-long sesshin in Colorado in the mid-Seventies. He gave my buddy Roch, a couples therapist, the koan, "How to realize God with wife in marriage?" Both Rich and I seem to be still on that road/path. It's a great one, although we do occasionally get ticketed for "violations".
Isn't the existential koan HOW TO BE YOURSELF (or Buddha) at every moment thru each and every action, the main one, the American Koan-- The One for today. (For every day.) Just doin' what you're doin' while bein' what you be.

I can guarantee that if you ain't her now you won't be there then.

Mushim's picture

Yes, the existential koan is a good one for Americans... in my experience, there are a remarkable number of people in our society who constantly feel they should be nicer, smarter, more spiritual, more compassionate, less angry and aggressive, etc. Being "mindful" seems to be misperceived as trying to live a life as though one is always tip-toeing through the minefield of one's own impurities, trying to keep looking good and "spiritual" to others. In Korean Zen there is a story of a monk sitting in the meditation hall. Suddenly he's enlightened and, yelling with joy, runs outside into the temple courtyard and starts urinating all over the place. Another monk sees him and is horrified and says, "Do you realize you're pissing all over the Buddhaland? Stop it right now!" The first monk says, "Show me a place that is not the Buddhaland and I will urinate THERE!"

Realizing God while driving car is a great koan!

Dominic Gomez's picture

Hi Mushim. You exhibit great faith in the Law. As well, your behavior as a mother is none other than that of a Buddha. NIchiren Daishonin teaches that, above all else, it is your heart that matters. Great good fortune to you and your family.

discoskwalla's picture

is this discussion going to be archived? i ordered the book, but, ironically, i don't know if i'll have time to read and participate in the time given, but i would like to read the discussion as well as the book....

Sam Mowe's picture

Yes! Comments will be closed at the end of October, but you will be able to read through the discussion under the "Community" tab up top.

lintenn's picture

ThAnk you food offering this! I have already ordered the book from elsewhere but would like to download the ebook. How can I do that?

Sam Mowe's picture

Hi lintenn, The ebook and the hard copy are a package deal. You'll find the offer here. Thanks, Sam

BarbaraK's picture

Hello,
Lama Surya's teaching have strongly effected my life for about a half-dozen years, Buddhism for about 43 and thoughts of space, time and the eternal now have, occupied my mind since reading sciience fiction in my teen years in the 1950s. And I've been a digital lurker for a long time with this being my first ever post.

Jenneil thanks for your post, I like your idea about substituting full for busy. The difference hits a note on the cord of “have lots going on” by still requiring an evaluation and prioritizing but in a more gentle yet profound and natural positive way then the connotations associated with busy does. Like deciding how full the glass is and how much space is still there after all.

When it comes to space/time though, I’ve found that by reminding myself to think about it not as a linear progression of time segments marked out with a specific space on a calendar or clock of life but more like an ever changing continuously ebbing and flowing of movement from one defining pivotal moment to another, each filled with events and decisions that marked and roiled the soul unfettered by consideration of concepts and constraints of space, time, place or condition, I then tend to live more often in the eternal now and see what needs to be done and have the time I need to do it.

I think this is because when I have this underlying viewpoint, breathing the breath of the present eternal now and letting it fill all relative thoughts of remembrances past, of events present or those yet to be and metaphysical concepts of time and space or of the me now or before I was me, with the fresh awareness of the eternal now, it all becomes one nanosecond of time, yet forever timeless, one infinitesimally small point, yet limitless, that is everything, that is nothing, yet filling all universes; relative, absolute, daytime, dreaming, with pulsating vibrating radiant freedom and the eye of clarity. Then. Now. Unfolding. And then no matter how many countless plans and numberless revisions littered my mind’s floor I am more able to relax into life let it unfold. Until I forget and remind myself again.

ricomo's picture

Two general comments: Being a slow reader - or, apropos this book / topic, a busy one, I wish that the wonderful folks at Tricycle could give more lead time between a book's availability and the announcement of an online discussion about it, on the one hand, and the beginning of that discussion on the other hand. I've barely had a chance to get into this book and don't want to waste anyone's time (again, probably apropos this book / topic) with questions or comments that are already there, addressed in the book waiting for me to read them.

Secondly, I'm hoping that one of the topics I find in this book and/or discussion is my tendency, when reading about and focusing on being in the moment, to go to, maybe, some other extreme, from hyper-busyness to laziness (or what I call, less pejoratively, and maybe too irresponsibly) honoring my body's energy - which inevitably ends up meaning I call out of work a lot, am late a lot, don't get much done around the house, etc. It's hard for me to find balance between these two extremes. What might be a good question to ask myself when I'm faced with a decision to dive into some activity or to chill and maybe take a nap? Maybe start it out with, "Is my decision (own the decision!) about what I'm about to engage in (or not) going to ...?"? Maybe to continue the question, "...make me feel...?"? (But, really, it can't only be about how I feel, or can it? Or maybe how I feel about it after-the-fact might be some indication as to how the decision I made and the activity I engaged in (or lack thereof) contributed to my values, which includes not just my own comfort, but also the interconnectedness of all beings, being compassionate - towards others as well as one's self, leaving the world a better place than I found it, being the best that I can be, living up to my potential, etc. Feeling guilt would be one indication that my decision did not contribute to my values, but then again, guilt can be toxic too.) Others' thoughts about this? Thanks.

jenneil's picture

As I have listened to people tell me of their life activities, I have heard the words "I have been busy" or "I have been just crazy busy," as if being "busy" is a negative quality or attribute.

I re-placed the word "busy" with "full." I now say "my days are full." That changed how I perceive my daily activities. Work and other activities are now opportunities to serve and utilize my talents rather than being burdens or chores that must be completed.

We may not have much control of the responsibilities we have and our conditions, but we can change how we perceive them.

To use an indirect example, some people view wheelchairs as being negative, yet for many people who use wheelchairs, they are a source of freedom. Same with hearing aids. Some people perceive that the use of hearing aids as a negative sign of aging and/or somehow a flaw in our character, but hearing aids open the doors of more opportunities to hear the sounds around us better.

ricomo's picture

You wrote, "I re-placed the word "busy" with "full." I now say "my days are full." That changed how I perceive my daily activities. Work and other activities are now opportunities to serve and utilize my talents rather than being burdens or chores that must be completed." Thank you. I'm going to try that.

apk's picture

Lovely! Thank you so much for your Post.
For it is not What we do, by How we do everything we do....
Moving into the Stillness of Being,
Bowing with a Smile....

sliben's picture

It would be helpful if you could expand on what you mean by the word "time" versus the idea of "the idea of the timeless/deathless now". For myself, the less I think of time as a "spendable commodity" and rather see it as a relative (ie not absolute) truth akin to how I now think of the concept of "me/self" the more I can let go of the "time is money" type of conceptual understanding. When I bring myself back to right now it actually does feel a bit "timeless". Am I all mixed up in my concepts? Help me better understand!

Lama Surya Das's picture

I hate to admit it, but you're right about the timeless now or absolute time, and the changing times of past, present and future which Buddhism calls "the three times". The fourth time or ascendant deepest timeless time -- or the holy now-- vertically bisects each and every moment of horizontal linear conventional time, and the wholly now is the great crossroads and portal to the timeless and deathless plane.

chrismannolini's picture

I have in my mind that conventional time is indeed horizontal and is simply a form of measurement we can use to make appointments, know when to start and, thankfully, finish work, catch a bus or train, or time stamp comments in chat forums.

Of the fourth time you mention here, the "holy now"; perhaps it is that the universe is unfolding, like a flower, so it makes sense that true time is unfolding in a similar, multidimensional way. Perhaps it is unknowable, but meditation and reflection might help us appreciate time from the other side, rather than the side that laments, "there's never enough time", "where did the time go?" "I don't have the time."

I'll keep reading ...

ricomo's picture

Ditto. Thank you for your question (and the insight that led to it.)

Brad_Isaacson's picture

Timelessness is not a psychological trick that we play on ourselves while we somehow, in the back of our minds, really think that time Is. That the continumn of movement from past to future is "really" a reality, I mean, all the physists that we honor today rely on the the "arrow of time" to explain the movement and change of the universe. However, one of the most obscure teachings in Buddhistm is timelessness. You don't hear or read much about it in the texts, except in passing or as part of very advanced Buddhist philosophy. And we go, "oh yea...no past, no future only now." LIke we read it on the back of a ceral box. Timlessness is the reality of our lives, the univers and arising appearance. The Big Bang did not happen 13.7 billion years ago on some cosmic timeline that really exists. It happened now. All events only happen now, now and now. But one has to have direct gnosis or intuition and understanding of this truth founded in our experience and lives. I honor Lama Surya Das for putting this topic on the front burner in the Buddhist, Western conversation. It's high 'Time' that someone did and Lama Surya Das has enough chutspah to pull it off in the West.

skc's picture

After practising for some years now I have finally realised that the notion of time is just another concept created by man in order to come to terms with the constant change arising out of cause and effect. This is why time is subjective and goes fast or slow according to our perspective of a particular situation.
What is fascinating is that all those 1000's of years of history stretching behind us and all those yet to come, are actually only in a single 'timeless' moment!

LarryYaz's picture

re: 12 step program, I think it's a great idea. Back in Yonkers, Roshi Bernie Glassman began working on such a program. It was called, I believe, "How to tame an ox"; referring to the famous ox-herding pictures.

We all have our addictions. A Buddhist approach to help us manage them and free us from our constantly wandering mind is a great idea. Sign me up!

Lama Surya Das's picture

Life is time, time is life.  How we spend our time is our life; it's how we choose to live, with whom and for what purposes-- whether consciously and intentionally, or unconsciously and mindlessly.

Time is an endangered natural resource, and we scarcely know it. We squander it or take it for granted at our peril. Killing time just deadens ourselves. We shall all die, but who will truly live, today, now?

My ex-girlfriend used to call me Serious Das in the Seventies, but I'm much lighter here and now. Let's lighten up as well as enlighten up; life ain't much fun if we take ourselves too seriously. Once upon a time I was no more; though it lasted not, one must live as if it were true.

ricomo's picture

I once read that R. Buckminster Fuller had contemplated suicide and that instead he decided to live the rest of his life as if he had killed himself. Your comment, "Once upon a time I was no more..." brought this story back to me.

pamrosal@hotmail.com's picture

You've really got me thinking along these lines! I've been inviting connection and deeper interactions into my life. But as I read your book I'm realizing that I have surface relationships with many people. I'm struggling with the idea that I need to give up or at least stop expending a little energy on a lot of relationships if I want to focus on a few deep relationships. Any insights?

littenberg's picture

PLEASE... I want to know how to download the book while i wait for a copy (just ordered) to arrive.
Could someone tell me how to download this book so i may begin reading and join the discussion?
Thanking you in advance

Sam Mowe's picture

After you order the book you should receive an email that includes a link to download the book. If you have difficulties please contact support@tricycle.com

Kind wishes,
Sam

Dominic Gomez's picture

In an essay in The Economist in 1955, Cyril Northcote Parkinson wrote that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." In a way, so do our lives. The difference being that the amount of time available for completing our life's work is unknown in most cases. The question then becomes how much value are we creating with our precious lives as each moment, each day or week, each year passes.

ricomo's picture

I totally connected with your comment, Dominic, - initially, but then I wondered how do we know what our life's work is? Also, eventually, the commentary of a couple of therapists I've seen over the years, as I made similar statements about creating value with our (my) time and activities, trickled back into my consciousness. And maybe this is because I sometimes drive myself too hard or feel too much guilt when I don't - which might not by your or others' experience - but, those therapists have responded by saying things like, "You're valuable just for existing. You don't have to earn your time here on earth." Hmm. I still don't completely 'understand' their feedback. I have so much parental and societal messaging that is more about earning your keep, justify your existence. I'm sure there's a middle path somewhere in there but I'm such a black-and-white thinker. Any thoughts, suggestions?

Dominic Gomez's picture

Hi Ricomo. I've been practicing Buddhism as a member of Soka Gakkai International since 1973. That's the one where you chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. In another discussion in Tricycle (home->magazine: Soyen Shaku: One Hundred Years Ago, by Diana L. Eck) it's alluded to as the Law of the universe. For myself, I've realized that my "life's work" is my career as an artist and teacher, as well as my role as a father and husband. Doesn't sound very earth-shaking, but it's the conclusion I've arrived at after many years of chanting and reflecting on the meaning of my life. It's not been easy. Along the way I've also experienced many struggles about which direction to take. Bottom line for me is that my happiness, or enlightenment, can only be derived from my efforts at making other people's lives happy and worthwhile. And doing it without having to be anything spectacularly different than who I basically am.

Lama Surya Das's picture

Last week I received an email from a grad student who went to Bhutan to research the ecological situation in the land touted as The Happiest Country in the world, where the king himself has proclaimed that they must measure the Gross Happiness Quotient as carefully as the Gross National Product. My young friend complained that she "can hardly get anything done, because everything moves so slowly here."

Her tiny tale of woe reminded of Mira Bai Bush, a dear old friend from India days who now teaches sometimes with me, telling me one day at lunch last winter that--when she was living in India in the early Seventies, fresh out of grad school-- she often felt quite frustrated with the amount of time we all used to spend waiting on line in that country: for a train, a bus, a via office, a bank line, etc. Anyone who has visited the third world can relate to this.  In Mexico, for instance, where questions of when will often be answered with the all-purpose phrase "Manyana", meaning tomorrow (or whenever).

Indian life is even slower-- at least, outside the new hi-tech capitals of that traditional, backward, populous and still developing country.  So Mirabai, even the intrepid seeker-- Ask, and ye shall find-- inquired, or perhaps even complained, to this to one of her Indian gurus.
He said: "Yes, that is very true. This is a great opportunity for you to learn and cultivate The Practice of Waiting."

Dominic Gomez's picture

My parents emigrated from the Philippines to the US after WWII. They had to reboot their perception of time to keep up with the pace of "modern" life (1950's). "Manyana" equated with getting behind the eight ball socially, financially. Better to leave such antiquated notions behind. Were they (and their children) better people for it? Hard to tell. Today I can't imagine living without the infinite possibilities provided by high tech.

ricomo's picture

I remember years ago, when I was working as a waiter in Philadelphia, PA, I took a vacation in San Juan, Puerto Rico. One day I was in a restaurant where the service just seemed so slow. I thought that I should move down there and I could make a killing waiting on so many more tables than the local waiters, running circles around them. Today, a couple of decades later (and no longer a waiter but a civil servant in a governmental child welfare protection agency), I'm at a point in my life where I want to have the pace of life that those waiters in San Juan had back then (and maybe still?), not to make so much more money. I'm not sure if that's a reflection of my maturity or my stage of life (I'm in my mid- to late-40's.) It's certainly not a reflection of any kind of increase in financial security.

Lama Surya Das's picture

My thesis is that it's not time we lack but focus, priorities, and awareness. For we actually have all the time we need; it all depends on how we choose to use or abuse and lose it.

For example: What keeps you from choosing more satisfactorily how you spend your own time?
Is it really true, as so many people tell me, that others take a lot of time... Rather than you yourself give it to them-- work, boss, family or whomever-- and that therefore you have a lot of choice, whether conscious or not, in such matters?

ricomo's picture

You wrote: "What keeps you from choosing more satisfactorily how you spend your own time?" My immediate reaction was, "Because I can't predict the future [outcomes of my how I "choose" (key word, thanks for including it) to spend my present time.] There are so many variables between, well, cause and effect. And how would we ever know what the outcome might have been if we'd made another choice. It's not like there's several of me in parallel universes that we can compare as if this were some sort of double blind scientific experiment. Maybe the answer has something to do with making the best choice / educated guess possible (without over-thinking it) and then learning to develop some equanimity with our choice and with the effect (which, of course, becomes another cause for another decision / educated guess for us to make.) I think there's something in here about not blaming ourselves for our past choices, or even present and future choices, because we are not, any of us, in total control of all effects. We are only one of many causes of those effects. Anyway, maybe I'm talking more to myself here, but hopefully others can relate.

pamrosal@hotmail.com's picture

Focus does seem so key. I've stopped telling myself to hurry and started gently asking for focus. Through meditation and mindfulness I really am becoming more skillful at discerning authentic choices for myself. The benefits are evident but one result is that I no longer have the desire to keep so many things going at one time. An obstacle I run into is the sense of loss as I turn away from a friend or activity. Will you please offer your perspective?