How to Make Life Spacious

By Mary Jaksch

Does time seem to run faster and faster as you go through life? Sometimes time seems to zap by in a flash; at other times boring hours seem to go on and on for ever. Especially on Friday afternoons! If you look at your life, and especially at your work: do you feel that you have to accomplish more and more in less and less time?

Today I want to suggest to you a different way of approaching time that makes for a more spacious life. A way that makes us realize how precious and unique each moment of our life is.

This day will not come again.
Each moment is a priceless gem.


But before I offer you some suggestions on how you can slow down time, let’s take a look at how we usually think about time.

We tend to think of time as a commodity.

Time as a commodity

We speak of ‘using time’, ‘buying time’, ‘saving time’, ‘spending time’, or ‘squandering time’. Because of this view, we are experiencing something that social scientists have termed a time-compression effect which means that today we seem to have much less time to do the things we need or want to do. This contributes to more stress at work, sleep deprivation, burnout, and less time for family and friends or recreational activities.

Photo bybadboy69

Remember the fairy tale of the princess and the frog? How she kissed a frog and he turned into a beautiful prince? Well, mostly we experience the reverse: we kiss a prince – and it turns out to be a frog! This is what happens when we treat time as a commodity. When you try to pin it down and master it, time transforms into something ugly.

Have you ever come across the novel called “Momo”? It was written by Michael Ende who became famous for his novel “The Neverending Story”. Momo is a fantasy novel that investigates what happens when we treat time as a commodity.

Here’s the story line:
A secret army of men in grey suits plan to rule the world and are slowly taking over a city. These men are beings that live only on other people’s time.

The first person to fall prey to the secret army is Figaro, the barber. One of the grey men recommends that he save time by eliminating all the activities that give meaning and quality to his life: the time he spends with his elderly mother, with his handicapped friend, his social life, his reading, even his daydreaming. Suddenly he becomes future-oriented.

Ende describes Figaro like this:

The determination to save time now so as to be able to begin a new life sometime in the future had embedded itself in his soul like a poisoned arrow. He was becoming increasingly restless and irritable. The odd thing was that, no matter how much time he saved, he never had any to spare and his days grew shorter and shorter.

I think we all know about that!

The cult of productivity

Just think about how the cult of productivity dominates our work culture! The philosophy of productivity is to do something we don’t enjoy doing as quickly and efficiently as possible, in order to have more time for what we do enjoy. But strangely enough, the upshot is that we spend less and less time enjoying life.

Time is really something very mysterious. As St. Augustine said:

What really is time? If I am not asked, I know this, but if I am asked, I do not.

One of the interesting question is how we actually experience the flow of time.

How do we experience time?

If you look back on this day, your mind will pick out particular experiences that mark the time passed. Maybe you’ll remember how you woke up, or how the first bird sang, or how breakfast tasted, or how you rushed to work, or how angry you were when you saw a particular email, and so on. Our mind constructs a time line made up of memories.

It would be similar if I asked you to recall your life. You would string together significant moments of your life. Maybe you would recall your first memory or other significant memories of your childhood. As you then scan along the timeline of your life, you would pick out other memory clips of your life. You would factor in your age, recalling how many years you’ve already lived, and predict how long you’ve still got to live and what you might do with those years. In fact, when we think about the time-line of our life, we tell ourselves a story. And this story can change according to how we feel right now. (This reminds me of NLP and their saying, “It’s never too late to have had a happy childhood!”)

The timeline of our life is a story we construct

I was once given a wonderful postcard with a picture of elderly Catholic nuns in habits playing ping-pong and laughing. The caption said, “How young would you be if you didn’t know your age?”

“Life holds one great but commonplace mystery… time. Calendars and clocks exist to measure time, but that signifies little because we all know that an hour can seem an eternity or pass in a flash, according to how we spend it. Time is life itself, and life resides in the human heart.” Michael Ende

So if treating time like a commodity doesn’t create a more spacious life, what does?

Mindfulness creates spaciousness

The strange thing is that when we are completely in the now, we have no awareness of time. That’s why we lose track of time when we are absorbed. Being in the now is sometimes called mindfulness. It means being present with a clear mind and an open heart. I’ll say more about that in subsequent posts.

How do we enter the present moment?

There is a direct pathway to now. It’s the breath. When we attend to our breath flowing in and out, we enter the now.

Let me suggest to you a simple mindfulness project:

As often as you can each day, pay tender regard to your breath, flowing in and out. Try saying silently “in” , as you breathe in, and “out” as you breathe out. Notice your little smile as you do this. Notice how your feeling of life changes in the moments when you are present.

Mindfulness is a wonderful medicine for life. Take it as often as possible!

I’d love to read your thoughts about time as well as your experience with the mindfulness project in the comments.

Enjoy some related articles:

De-stress, Unwind: The True Value of Silence

How to Meditate: 10 Important Tips

What is Natural Spirituality?

Save the World – One Breath at a Time

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  1. In Martial Arts, the key to controlling your emotions and your energy is to pay attention to your breathing. When I instruct students who are trying to punch as hard as they can, to forget about the hitting, breathe regular, and then hit hard, they are amazed. YOu can actually hit harder, using less energy, if you pay attention to your breathing.

    I would imagine this is the same for everyday life, as you pointed out in ‘How To Enter the Present Moment’. Great article Mary. 🙂

    Peter Normandias last blog post..Five Tips to Battle Against Complacency

  2. I think mindfulness is one of the most vital and rare things we can cultivate.

    Running out of “time” seems to be an epidemic, but your article really cuts to the root of the problem. It’s not a lack of time, it’s a lack of mindfulness!

  3. CG Walters says:

    Odd thing, time. The more we notice it, the less we have of it.
    Be here, now.
    Thank you, Mary. Excellent reminder!
    continued blessings and inspiration,

    CG Walterss last blog post..CelebraZine 14Jan09

  4. Mary Jaksch says:

    Hi Peter!
    A question, please: do you find that your punch is stronger when it happens on the outbreath?

  5. Mary Jaksch says:

    Hi Nathalie!
    Yes, mindfulness is wonderful. It’s amazing what just one mindful breath will do.

  6. Mary Jaksch says:

    Hi CG!
    I’ve just come back from leading a week-long Zen retreat in the mountains. It was a wonderful to feel time drop away and spaciousness appear.

  7. This was a very (ahem) timely post for me. I’m feeling a litle overwhelmed and anxious about not being able to get on top of everything…but it’s not my work that’s the main problem. I’m usually under-occupied at work but in my personal life, I never seem to find the time to attend to everything I want to do, particularly recently as I have started a few new projects. I’ve got too much time on my hands at work and too much fun stuff to fit in around work, but the fun seems less fun when I’m feeling pushed for time.

    Today I started to ponder the possibility of cutting back to 4 days a week at work to give me more time for the fun stuff but I’m not sure that it’s an option for financial reasons and I’m also not sure if I can rejig my financial commitments to make it possible. Hmmmm… Perhaps I have bitten off more fun than I can chew?!

    Frisky Librarians last blog post..Freaky photos

  8. AmazingMess says:

    Thanks for Momo. I found it present in our public library en will read it. I loved reading The Neverending Story, so did my children. The movie is pretty amazing too. It’s a great story because of it symbolic layers. I hope Momo hase the same amount of magic in it.

    AmazingMesss last blog post..platoon II – secrets of perception

  9. […] Mary Jaksch speaks to the way we use time in How to Make Life Spacious. My guest […]

  10. Yes, it’s funny how the sense that “I don’t have enough time to get things done” only seems to arise when I’m not appreciating the moment I’m in. I can be very busy, but I won’t experience that sensation if I’m giving what I’m doing my full attention.

    Chris Edgar | Purpose Power Coachings last blog post..How To Make An Audio CD Program On A Budget (Part Two)

  11. Mary Jaksch says:

    Hi Frisky Librarian!
    I hope you find a good balance between work and fun!

  12. Mary Jaksch says:

    Hi AmazingMess!
    Please let us know what you think of Momo.

  13. Mary Jaksch says:

    Hi Chris!
    “I don’t have enough time to get things done” – yes, so true – when we are in the moment, such thoughts disappear!

  14. Rudolf Orsag says:

    This article has been a great reminder Mary, thanks for that! If somebody asked me for one simple exercise to improve his/her life I would definitely recommend one of mindfulness exercise variations. This alone can work miracles: higher quality of life & health, focus on what is most important , channel for continuous improvements, control over emotions, ability to look at things from different perspective…I could go on and on, possibilities are limitless. I encourage everybody to experiment with mindfulness exercises as much as possible. After a year it feels like I have just scratched the surface. 🙂

  15. Adam says:

    What a wonderful article! I felt more aware just reading it and you were so right when you said “The strange thing is that when we are completely in the now, we have no awareness of time” Thank you for sharing this with us!

  16. tom says:

    One thing I can comment is people always saying “I have no time””I am too busy”

    Really? are you really busy or just using the busyness as an excuse to fill a void?

    Better yet, why don’t you have time, because you need to be a slave to your job, or whatever because of the stuff you accumulated in hopes of filling a void?

    Who told you to get a second car? You told you to buy a 5000 dollar television?

    So put yourself in this endless routine to just merely survive. How about time to appreciate family, friends and nature?

    toms last blog post..The true meaning of Obama’s position

  17. Ruth says:

    I’d forgotten about Momo, but I saw it in a library catalog or somesuch once and thought about reading it. But time got away from me and I never did. I just put it on hold through our online library system! 🙂

    I figure that I always have time for something BUT I’d rather be doing something else which is why I don’t do it. Rather might mean because it makes me happy or I might rather because it’s a habit and I’m used to it. Or it may not make me happy but it may have consequences down the road that make me happy.

    Ruths last blog post..Do You Really Want to Do Nothing?

  18. Bruce Kelly says:

    I’ve used the metaphor of time being a bank account with an unknown balance that had to be completely spent myself. I’d never heard of the Michael Ende book. I’ll be looking for a copy of Momo.
    Great post! Thank you.

    Bruce Kellys last blog post..Baby I’m Just Jogging In the Dark

  19. Ironically when i started to treat time as budget i became more calm and started to breath with full chest. I value time the most i think. I allocate my time(budget) to what i seriously value – my family, myself, relationships and some more. Only because i became aware of time and treat it as budget i am now available to most precious things in my life. I stopped planning it for some time in future – i started to live future now. And I breath calmly with full chest – no more fire alarms, no more stress….

    Alik Levin | PracticeThis.coms last blog post..Program Yourself For Extremely Fast Performance

  20. Mary Jaksch says:

    Hi Alik!
    yes, life feels very different when we can breathe calmly and deeply. I love the way you say, “I started to live future now.”

  21. […] As often as you can each day, pay tender regard to your breath, flowing in and out. Try saying silently “in” , as you breathe in, and “out” as you breathe out. Notice your little smile as you do this. Notice how your feeling of life changes in the moments when you are present. — From Goodlife Zen […]

  22. Amazing picture, it grap my attention right away. It’s my first time stumbling accross your blog. Excellent content. Thanks, I will be back again soon.

    Jonathan | enlightenYourDay.coms last blog post..Dr. Wayne Dyer’s practical guide to meditation and his nine spiritual principles.

  23. […] Blog by Mary Jaksch first published in Goodlife ZEN January 2009. Mary is a Zen […]

  24. […] How to Slow Down Time or, Why Never Kiss a Frog | Goodlife Zen (tags: time) […]

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