Henry David Thoreau on steering time:
“The whole of the day should not be daytime, nor of the night night-time, but some portion be rescued from time to oversee time in. All our hours must not be current; all our time must not lapse. There must be one hour at least which the day did not bring forth — of ancient parentage and long-established nobility — which will be a serene and lofty platform overlooking the rest. We should make our notch every day on our characters, as Robinson Crusoe on his stick. We must be at the helm at least once a day; we must feel the tiller-rope in our hands, and know that if we sail, we steer.”
For most of my life, the two most powerful ways to get me to move were guilt and urgency. If you could make me feel bad, I’d fix it. And if it needed to be done now, I’d drop everything and get on it.
Trouble is, both of those drivers are external. So it didn’t take long until I felt like my entire life was being run by everyone else but me. I tried desperately to make choices of my own but was inevitably distracted by watching, listening, and reacting to others.
Of course this quickly led to internal chaos. The guilt and urgency expressed by others was rarely in my better interest. I wasn’t growing like I hoped to. I wasn’t becoming who I wanted to be.
This internal struggle became most acute during my first years of college. In response, I plunged into myself. Internally lost, I shuffled around the campus, barely aware of anything but this mess within me. I wandered aimlessly and eventually gravitated to the place I’ve always felt safest … most whole: the library.
Slowly my attention was pulled from within myself up to the titles streaming down the rows. Somehow, among the thousands of books lining the shelves, I chose the most unlikely: Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom. And honestly, I think that book has had the greatest impact on my life of all the books I’ve read till now.
Much like Thoreau, Bloom reminds us that time can be our own. He describes a swirling world of responsibilities, obligations, and other social noise. Time screams past like a flock of angry crows and most of us hurtle along with it — trying desperately to keep up.
Bloom invites us to stop.
Simply stop, he suggests. See what happens. Wait for the moment when time is moving with dizzying speed. And quit. Quit for just five minutes and take note of the change. Counter-intuitively, astoundingly, astonishingly the world continues to spin, lives continue to exist, and everything continues to function.
Those five minutes can break the chains Thoreau has described above. They put you on a growth curve toward regaining the helm of time.
This understanding has been my single greatest weapon is smashing down panic, guilt, and urgency (when I remember it). It’s made a observable change in the way I approach work and my life.
It’s also made me more sensitive to other drivers, both external and internal. How else are we driven? Where else have we given away the rights to part of our lives?