The Art of Stopping Time
I recently spent an hour at a local bookstore, thumbing through tattered copies of Atwood and Tolstoy, books about art and mystery and magic. Making the rounds, I ended up in the self-help section.
A book had been dislodged from the tightly packed spines, and I picked it up: The Art of Stopping Time by Pedram Shojai. The tagline read “Practical Mindfulness for Busy People.” The cover was shades of blue, with a gold hourglass overlaid with gold splatters. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t pick it up for aesthetic reasons, but now that I had it in my hand, I began flipping through.
I’m a sucker for those “one a day” books (think five year journals), and upon opening this book, I noticed that it was in a similar format: every day, for one hundred days, you read that day’s lessons. Lessons range from taking time to digest your thoughts, to decluttering your computer.
Most importantly, each task is designed to prompt you to examine how you’re spending your time. When you get up in the morning, do you stretch, make a mug of tea, and plan the most important tasks for the day, or do you open your phone to scroll through social media? In the evening, do you go for a walk, meditate, and spend time with friends, or do you sit down to watch three hours of your favourite show?
I struggle immensely with balance and time management — so of course I bought it.
The first lesson had a huge impact on me: assembling your life garden. Shojai uses the metaphor of the garden for our life — specifically, he talks of how, if you put too many plants in your garden, it will become over-crowded, and other things you plant will be neglected and wither.
Ever since I came back from San Francisco last month, I’ve been struggling to balance my time. I seem to spend all of it hanging out with friends — and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except that’s all I seem to do with my time.
In my last semester, I wrote down everything I wanted to do with my time once I was free from the heavy demands that come with university courses. I wanted to write poetry and short stories, work on my novel, paint, travel, hike, and sort through my possessions (I’m moving! More on that later) to name a few.
In the last month, I’ve accomplished a lot less than I would have liked. I wrote a couple poems, but my novel sat untouched. I did one painting, but that was three weeks ago. And all of my possessions are in the exact place I left them.
For me, the metaphor of the garden was crucial to understanding how to balance my time, and what happens when I don’t. I’ve put all my time and energy into relationships, so my other plants (writing, painting, hiking) have all been neglected.
But after reading the first lesson and re-evaluating how I spend my time, I’ve started to change – I’m saying no to friends, and am spending more time by myself. I go for long walks in the forest, have started two more paintings, and have even pulled out my novel outline to refresh my memory on where I want it to go next.
I love my friends, and I love being around people, but I was starting to feel just as frazzled as I did when I was floundering beneath too many university-related responsibilities. Now that I’ve been putting more energy into tending to my other plants, I’m noticing a difference.
Balance is not something that comes naturally to me. I’m the type of person who packs their schedule so tight that they don’t have any down time. Sometimes that’s okay, but for extended periods of time, it’s detrimental. But with this book, I’m starting to evaluate and alter how I spend my time. I’m learning to slow down — something that I’ve needed to do for a long time.