Space, time and getting stuff done: Not your average post on productivity
I talk about space a lot, but usually in terms of wanting more. Finding ways of being that involve more space is probably my key motivation in life, and exploring how to have more space is taking me into some interesting corners of experience. There is, of course, physical space, which can be decluttered. Fewer possessions means less to maintain, replace, clean and think about. Less to think about? Ah, mental space!
But it’s fleeting. Tension and stress can set, and when that happens the space is gone again, sometimes in an instant. Mental clutter!
But it’s not all bad. Because every condition requires its opposite to exist, without the pressure there is no space. In the west, pressure is most often associated with time. At work, the quality and quantity of our work is constantly under scrutiny. How efficient are we and how do we compare to others. We could just work and get things done that need to be done, but with bottom lines and shareholders and the constant desire for more of everything, time is money.
Time pressure causes us to do more and it reduces the space between activities and the space between our thoughts. Pressure increases density, to the point where we can feel as though physical pressure is being applied to the body, and when that ends suddenly, as it sometimes does, it creates a vacuum. Relieve the pressure and the space reappears. Less time = less space and more time = more space.
I often look for ways to give myself breaks from the pressure. Sometimes I change my environment and sometimes I change how I see things. When my thoughts relax, my body relaxes and I breathe better. There’s a relationship between thoughts, tension and breath. Change one and the others change too. Our thoughts and our breath are always in sync, so when I breathe more fully, my thoughts slow down, and time takes on different qualities – it slows down and becomes more elastic; this is the interesting part!
Can I hack the elasticity of time? Yes!
How? It’s about perception.
To say that pressure is a matter of perception is not to deny the reality of its existence. For something to be ‘real’ it only needs to be part of your experience, so if you are experiencing pressure, it’s real. The mistake we make is to assume that our experience comes from outside of us.
If our experience determines reality (and not the other way around) then everything we experience as ‘real’ exists only as perception. This may seem almost incomprehensibly philosophical to some, but there is a real practicality to the idea that we get to choose how we see and experience things. So often we experience something, react to it and continue to assume that how we perceived the situation is just how it is. We often don’t recognize that what we believe about ourselves, our level of security, how people should behave in the world, or the nature of reality itself determines our reactions, and that someone else with a different belief system would react differently or perhaps not at all. And sometimes even when we know how our beliefs shape our reality and we know we can choose, the emotions are so intense that we just can’t see the choices; we might even forget that choices even exist. Recognizing the situations and choosing our response is a skill – we can learn it, constantly improve it and hopefully develop a degree of mastery.
I can see my story (beliefs) change as I grow, age, mature, and develop new skills and competencies. Every time I step outside of my comfort zone and succeed, the story changes a little. So, if the story can change, why not consciously change it?
Challenging my comfort zone is certainly a way of accomplishing this, but there are faster ways. One way is to temporarily stop my thoughts, and the other is to focus so intently on something that, for a time, nothing else exists in my experience.
Stopping thoughts from arising
Meditation and mindfulness practices are excellent ways of experiencing the moments of clarity that arise in the space between thoughts. Even if it lasts only a couple of seconds, the entire realm of possibility opens up, forever changing your view of yourself and the world. How long do you have to meditate before experiencing something like this? Maybe not very long, but it’s impossible to say; still, a glimpse into the vastness can be life-altering.
A little less dramatic than moments of expansive peace are flow states. Maybe you haven’t had one since you were a kid, but I think all of us remember an experience (or perhaps many!) of being so involved in what we were doing that we had no sense of the passage of time. This can occur in a way that makes an hour feel like 5 minutes or that makes 5 minutes feel like an hour. It can also occur in a way that allows us to access a level of creativity that is not generally accessible to us, allowing for creativity, innovation or problem-solving in ways that make challenging and complex tasks effortless. These states can certainly challenge and change the thoughts we have about how limited we are and what possibilities are available to us.
What’s the hack?
Both the moments of no-thought and flow states can be learned, and if you already experience them, you can have greater access to them by practicing. Each is a skill. They may come more naturally to some people than to others, but they are skills, nonetheless. Greater access to states of greater possibility reduces the number of limitations we impose on ourselves, thus giving us greater access to our potential for growth and development.
Another way in
The nature of time and space is still being debated by theoretical physicists, and I have neither the background nor the will to weigh in on those discussions. However, quantum mechanics is being used to explain consciousness – to ground in science what existential philosophers and mystics have known for millennia, that perception creates our reality. So, let’s come back to the connection between the breath and thoughts.
Things can happen in the course of a day to increase or decrease the pressure I feel. For example, responsibilities may be added to my already-full calendar, or an important meeting might get cancelled. But what can I do to shift my perception?
To me, it generally feels like time begets space. If I am not pressured by my schedule, I can breathe better, the tunnel vision subsides, I see more possibilities, and can think more creatively. Less common is the feeling that space begets time, but it certainly occurs. I can change how I breathe and how I think which seems to stretch time. In this state, I have all the time in the world! It’s not a state where I don’t see everything or where I misinterpret priorities and later feel the foolishness of my delusion. It’s more a magical state where there is enough time for everything.
The first time I really noticed this happen was a few years ago, after a yoga class. For days I had been watching a mounting list of responsibilities, I was squeezing in as much as I could, feeling immense pressure to get everything done and also feeling the impossibility of the task. I was sleeping when I could no longer stay awake, eating on the fly and working like mad to meet a deadline. I could see no way to get everything done on time, so resigned myself to a degree of failure and decided to go to yoga. I figured that if I was going be completely crunched for time and unable to produce the quality of product I wanted, the least I could do was to be less stressed about it, so off I went.
The process is this: Pay attention to your breath in your body. As you inhale do an expansive movement and as you exhale do a contractive movement. The end. That is yoga. Bam! It can feel good to exert myself in the challenging classes, but I don’t even have to; the effect is the same. The combination of focus, movement and breath is a remarkable!
I went into the class feeling tense and physically heavy, and I came out feeling light and relaxed. I felt fantastic! I lingered to chat, I picked up some take-out on the way home, I had a shower, I ate and slowly remembered the list of things I had to do. I looked at it and it suddenly felt possible to do it all. I couldn’t explain how I was going to do it, and I couldn’t add up the quantities of time to equal fewer hours than they had 2 hours before, I just knew it was okay. Perhaps the yoga triggered a flow state that later affected my perception of my tasks, or maybe it primed me to slip into a flow state to accomplish what I needed to do. I can’t say for sure except in the times that this has happened since, I can only say that it feels like magic.
For me, flow states are focused and creative, and are periods of accomplishment but, even though time is elastic, the outcome results from a logical sequence. In the state that I will call a form of “yoga brain” the work gets done, but I can’t track the logical sequence as clearly. It’s as though I know what to do and what not to do, or which corners can be cut without affecting the quality of the end product. There may be a complex way of doing something, but I will suddenly see a much simpler way to do it. I question the outcome, but it always turns out well. Sometimes there will be tasks that I reprioritize for no reason I can explain, and then, by the time I get to them, they no longer need to be done. Magic.
What can you do to taste a little of this flavour of Awesome?
Meditation, mindfulness and yoga are valid approaches, but not everyone is going to take those routes. Becoming more aware of the system of beliefs and values that governs your life is really important for the big shifts to occur, but it requires a lot of introspection, which many people may not be excited about. Having in your life some supportive people who ask interesting questions is really useful as well, but not everybody has that support.
For those looking for the easy road, my only piece of advice is this: Go where the love is! If there’s anything particularly notable about the space between thoughts, flow states or whatever it is about that form of “yoga brain” I described, it’s the feeling of love. The degrees can vary depending on the depth of the experience, but the love is unmistakably clear. So, if you’re not into the meditation or yoga, and the flow states are elusive, go where the love is. You might find it in an activity or with a person you wish you had more time for. You might find it playing with your kids, reading a book, going for a swim, or any number of other things. What makes you feel calmer and helps you to briefly forget about the time? The more you go there, the better off you will be. You’ll feel the love and in time it will fill you from the inside and gush out into what you are doing and into the relationships you have.
Our breath and our thoughts are inextricably linked. When all we can think about is getting things done with limited resources our breathing becomes shallow and there is not enough time. But when we are relaxed, our breathing becomes deeper and we either stop thinking about time for a while, or we feel as though we have all the time in the world.
Food for thought as you take the next step into Awesome.
This months article on the Captain is written by our guest writer, Tamara.