Rant 3 September 2002: Time, you thief

People talk a lot about time.

They have time, need time, waste time, wish there was more time in a day, and so on.

In my experience as both a student and instructor, I know that in fact, time is not usually the problem. Time management, and how we experience time, is the problem.

One exercise I make my first year students do is log their time use for a week.

They discover that although they feel overworked, they actually spend a lot of time doing useless crap like watching TV, playing on AIM or ICQ, standing in line, etc. When they write down their time use, they have a visual representation of how much of their day is truly wasted.

Another thing that people do is spend energy thinking about a time other than now.

I’m not saying planning for the future is a bad thing, although probably all of our pension fund portfolios will wind up in the toilet thanks to the recent corporate scandals.

But people spend existence in the past or the future without doing anything productive.

They yearn nostalgically for an imagined childhood. They meticulously recall their failures. Or, they look forward to the day when they will magically be thin, rich, and beautiful, and Antonio Banderas will finally notice them.

Why am I jabbering on about this on a fitness site?

Well, first, try this.

Keep track of how much time in a day you spend on thinking about stuff other than the present.

That includes spending time hating your body and wishing it was something else, spending time lying in bed thinking about what you ate that day, planning to start a diet/fitness program on Monday or the first of next month, spending time worrying about all the crap waiting for you at work.

Do this for several days or a week.

Get a stopwatch if you like. Either you’ll have an accurate record of your time spent or you’ll discover just how much you can lie to an inanimate object.

Look at how much time you’ve spent being mentally elsewhere.

Identify points at which this time could be better used.

When could you be present more in the moment?

When could you connect fully with the present and act, not think?

When can you be and do in the right now?

Stop. Pay attention. Look around.

Experience your body as it presently is.

What are you feeling? What is around you?

Is your foot asleep? Is your tummy growling? Do you feel edgy from too much caffeine or low blood sugar?

What can you do for your body right now that would be productive and positive?

Could you throw away that sugary, chemical-laden shit you’re snacking on?

Could you get up out of your chair and walk around?

Could you stop hunching your shoulders up around your ears because of how tense you feel about an imagined future?

Could you drink a glass of water?

Could you give your body the nutrients it’s craving?

Could you dump that knapsack full of past and future emotional baggage?

For your body, there is no other time than the present.

It responds dynamically to what you are experiencing, moment to moment. While your body bears the scars of the past and perhaps something lurks in the future, for the most part your body is occupied with the here and now.

As a result, it doesn’t get persnickety. It’s not a bean counter. It just tries its best to deal to whatever you give it, and goes with the flow.

If it wants something, it says so. Either you listen or you ignore it, though it often gets its own way in the end.

Slight tangent, bear with me.

One significant contribution of Marx to our ideas about work (and by the way, I believe Marx’s contributions were primarily philosophical, not economic) was the notion of alienation. Marx argued that the worker had become alienated from his or her work.

Because the worker was unable to begin and end a project and see the production of an object to completion, s/he had no sense of what s/he was actually doing.

For example, let’s say you work in a factory and your job is to make a widget.

You don’t craft the widget from scratch, taking it from raw materials to final product. You just do one little tiny part of that process; maybe you’re the person who adds a gear or spring to it. It comes to you incomplete, you do your job, then you send it away again, still incomplete. You never see it again.

At the end of the workday, do you feel good about what you’ve done? Well, says Marx, probably you don’t.

Because you haven’t been fully involved in the production of that object. You have nothing at the end of the day that you can look at and say, “I made that”.

(By the way, I expounded on this theory of meaning through activity to a stranger on a bus once. It was late at night and we were the only two people on board. He hated his job as a call centre worker. The work was meaningless, pointless, and had little value. It was inconceivable to him that I loved my job, because everyone around him hated their jobs. I mentioned this theory of alienation from work. He had an epiphany. By the end of our conversation he had decided to quit his job and pursue his dream of being a photographer. I wonder if he ever went through with it.)


We are often like that factory worker. We are often alienated from our bodies.

Though we see our bodies from beginning to end, we often have no sense of achievement. We merely maintain them with the barest minimum of attention.

And we cheat them psychically by wishing they were something they are not. We don’t inhabit them fully.

We just drive them around with our brains, hoping that maybe our body will get into an accident and we can use the insurance money to buy a snappier model.

As a result we live in a physical time frame which cheats us from fully experiencing our bodies.

We deny them what they need and give them what they don’t want.

Our goal, then, is to live more fully in our physical present.

In the here and now.

What can you do for your body right now?