The Theosophical Society in America

It's About Time

Originally printed in the May - June 2004 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Bland, Betty. "It's About Time." Quest  92.3 (MAY-JUNE 2004):82-83

By Betty Bland


The surrealist artist, Salvador Dali, is perhaps best known for his paintings of melting clocks in a parched desert landscape. These haunting pictures reveal in symbolic language the arid nature of our own lives in modern society, controlled by the pressures of crowded schedules and impending deadlines. Close to the point of meltdown, it is difficult to find the space to be about the most important work of our lives—soul cultivation.

Many modern conveniences, which are supposed to save us time and theoretically create leisure time (an illusive dream for most of us), actually compound the intensity of our time constraints. The telephone makes it possible to keep in touch with an ever-increasing range of friends and family. Computers and faxes provide the opportunity to conduct almost instant-time business with people around the world. A written transmission is no sooner completed than the response has bounced back. Copy machines and emails duplicate more copies of documents for the expanding involvement of agencies, departments, personnel, and bureaucratic files. As rapid, long-distance travel shrinks the world, we have more places to go and less time to do so. This wealth of information and contacts would have been unthinkable a few generations ago!

In the face of these "luxuries" the challenge to maintain balance and contact with an inner atmosphere of quietude looms large. Is it possible to rush around, communicate effectively, and meet dozens of deadlines while still keeping in mind the sense of the inner self?

Perhaps those melting clocks are representative of the wasteland of our souls when we waste time – or spin out of control with misdirected energies. There are legitimately important tasks and they often fall on the busiest people, but it is because those busy people have learned to work with a balanced attitude. Although each one of us has our own limits, calm focused actions yield far greater results than jittery rushing motions. It is those nervous reactions to life that rob us of quality time. The more rushed we feel, the more exhausted and less effective we become.

In an odd self-defeating phenomenon, we become like tired little children who are avoiding going to bed. We get even busier doing irrelevant things, and crankier if we get any interruptions. This in fact becomes a way of life for us. Technology has so sped up this sensory impact that we don't know how to be quiet, and in fact we don't want to be. I know that when I have a big task ahead, it is easy to dissipate my energies on trivialities rather than focus on the one big item. We all have a tendency to fill our time with rushing to and fro so that we don't have to settle these over-active minds into a steady pattern

.A corollary to the high-speed information flow is an increased level of responsibilities for many of us. For each task that is accomplished, two more pop up, like the proverbial many-headed hydra. We don't know which task to attack next, knowing that more are always ready to materialize. So it is possible to feel paralyzed by the daunting mountain of tasks looming in the foreground.

Yet time is not the fixed commodity that it appears to be on the surface. Sometimes time hangs heavy, such as the span of time for young children from Thanksgiving to the Christmas holidays. In their world of heightened anticipation, time seems to go on forever. Alternatively consider the duration of a delightful vacation or intriguing task. In these cases the Latin adage "Tempus fugit" (time flies) applies. And whether happy or sad, consider the speed of time as we pass our mid-life point. Warp speed comes to mind. Time is flexible according to our mode of attention.

There is a place where clock-time does not exist. It is in the spaces of our inner being. These spaces can be experienced only in stillness. Relaxed focus is a way in which we can begin the stilling process. When the mind can focus on one particular task, shutting out all the others clamoring for attention, a calm descends. There is no longer a forest of confusion, but one tree that needs loving care. With attention, every detail of the task falls into place within a kind of timeless peacefulness. And interestingly enough, the other tasks that made up the undergrowth of the forest of confusion, begin coming into view one by one in clarity and simplicity. Full attention to the one thing attracts the energies of the inner self.

Focus or concentration is in fact a beginning stage of meditation. The mind, which is continually jumping around from one thing to another and generally drawn to the emotionally charged subjects around which it can forever chase its tail, can be trained to look at just one subject.  Focus on the breath or a word works for some people, but for some it takes an object of adoration to keep the attention. In any instance the mind continually has to be reminded to stay on the one task; yet after a while it will begin to be more obedient.

Gradually the mind will have momentary clarity and peacefulness. The inner eye can look with greater objectivity at life, seeing what is real and what is not; important or not; possible or not. Then we can begin to manage time for personal well-being and to fulfill the calling of our higher nature (a kind of personal direction, known in the East as dharma). Then maybe we will be able to seize the moment and act with clear intention. When this happens, it will not be we who act, but the out-flowing nature of our higher selves. We will be operating "in the flow," in keeping with the Tao of Chinese philosophy.

In this way, if we begin to direct our focus and discipline our scattered minds, we can move out of the arid deserts of distorted time depicted in Dali's works into the green valleys of moments well spent. This transformation is possible if we spend some of our precious time in stillness, and carry that quiet focus out into the busy world. It is possible, however, only if we begin now.

It's about time!