From 5:30 – 800 PM she doesn’t take calls. Catherine McKenna – Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change – builds family and personal resilience by creating boundaries that protect her family life from her big job. As reported, for several hours each evening she is home with her husband and children, having dinner and supervising homework. At 8 PM it’s back to work.
We all struggle with too much to do, not enough time to do it. I was reminded of this when talking with a friend about finding time for mindfulness practice. The same struggle to find time applies to any healthy habit, one that may be important but has a longer term, uncertain payback. But when struggling to find time, how much of what we do is necessary busy, or just busy work?
Necessary Busy, or Busy by Choice?
Globally, we are the lucky ones. In North America, we spend 7 – 10 % of our income on groceries, whereas a Pakistan family will spend half their income on food. We are the ones where basic necessities include household conveniences that would be luxuries in most of the world. Last fall, we witnessed this first hand when travelling in Uzbekistan, a Central Asian country still struggling to emerge into the modern economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union 25 years ago. These women pictured here have no choice about picking cotton during harvest time. The work is back breaking, the pay meager and the cotton pickers are often conscripted. This is what necessary busy looks like. It was the world most of our grandparents lived in and is still very much the case for most of the world today. Including the impoverished and working poor in North America. So, how busy am I, really?
Viewed against this lens, much of what I do is a choice. If I’m conscious, this choice is based on what I value, what gives energy, joy or connection, who or what I serve. If I’m unconscious, I go along with … whatever is around. In 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that technological advances would mean that we would all be working 15 hours a week. Instead, productivity gains have fueled a consumer boom, where we all work incredibly hard to buy a lot of stuff we soon throw away. A lot more of our time is at our disposal than we may realize.
So how can I consciously choose to spend my time, those fleeting hours – once gone, gone forever? If our notions of necessity are distorted, is there another guide?
Build Resilience by Creating Your Sacred Habits
I am reminded of Ken Wilber’s comments about the difference between sacrifice and sacrilege. Sacrifice is effort and energy expended on behalf of something ‘higher, broader or greater’, whereas sacrilege is effort or energy expended on behalf of something ‘lower, narrower or diminished’. Without privileging what is higher or lower, you probably have a good intuitive sense of what this might be for you. Catherine McKenna sacrificed some work time for her family. Syrian refugees risk all for the sake of better lives for their children. Artists practice long hours for the sake of their art, soldiers risk life for their country, activists may go in harm’s way for their cause, corporate managers may work long hours for little recognition. This makes sacrifice sound gloomy, even mortally threatening, but it needn’t be.
What would happen to your use of time if you thought of it as a sacred gift; a sacrilege to misuse? It needn’t take all that much to introduce into your daily life a little seed that waters the potential of your better self. To do something that enhances life, creates health, joy or builds knowledge for you or others. The payoff may be uncertain or in the future, but you do it anyway. These are the daily healthy habits we all struggle to practice, from exercise to healthy eating to family dinners to nurturing relationships to meditation practice. Resilience is the ability to recover, adapt and grow from stress. Sacred habits are exactly what build your resilience muscles.
How do you know you’re on the right track for using your time wisely? It’s a bit like exercise or a new sport. At first, you may feel awkward, tired or aching, but something in your body senses the physical invigoration. Likewise, when you introduce your sacred habits, it may feel silly or unnecessary, given your pressing daily schedule. But your soul knows what it needs and senses the increased vitality and resilience. Where your heart – and time – is, there is your treasure. Happy Valentine’s Day!