What If You Don’t Have Time To Meditate?
The illusion of time-poverty.
There’s an old Zen proverb which goes roughly as follows:
You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.
For those of us living with the reality of time poverty, this probably feels like a personal attack. What does a zen monk know about the tribulations of time management anyway? When was the last time they had to juggle a full-time job with childcare? Or a social life? Or the search for a better full-time job? It’s like a millionaire telling someone on minimum-wage that they should diversify their investment portfolio.
I mean sure, technically everybody gets the same 24 hours in a day. But the truth is, we don’t all have the same amount of time. The amount we need to devote to work, study and trying not to die alone varies so wildly, that on the surface it seems crazy to suggest that sitting quietly and emptying your mind is a good use of it.
There is another way to look at it though. Let’s start by thinking about how it feels to be time-poor. Think about all the things you wish you had time to do. Think about how little of your precious time you spend doing things that are actually important to you. Think about that feeling that you’re suffocating under the weight of all the things people are expecting you to do. It’s like a thousand different alarms are going off all at once and all of them need your attention right now. Does this seem like a sustainable way to live? Do you have a plan for how to fix it? Wouldn’t it be great to stop feeling this way? Even if only for 20 minutes a day?
To begin with, this is what meditation offers; a pause button. Meditation becomes a window in time when the constant demands that define your day-to-day life stop being your problem. They’ll still be there of course. There will still be bills to pay and deadlines to meet. You just give yourself a few blissful moments where they don’t matter. This is valuable not only because of the breather that it gives your mind, but also because it gives you the chance to wonder which demands are truly worth sacrificing your time to meet.
But this is just the beginning. Meditation also lets you see how much of your time you waste. How often you are mindless as opposed to mindful. The truth is that whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, if you feel that there isn’t enough time to do the things that are important to you, it’s because you’re not defining the things that are important to you carefully enough. Making time for meditation is a practice in and of itself. And it may well be the most valuable thing you ever do.
Let’s make one thing clear; 20 minutes is just over 1% of your day. 1%. If you can’t make time to meditate, you have to at least consider the possibility that your life is out of control. That the things you’re doing with your time aren’t serving you, they’re controlling you. That meditation feels like an unnecessary indulgence precisely because you’re so unused to using your time in a way that truly benefits you.
Time is the most valuable thing you possess. You should spend it on whatever you want. But just as with anything valuable, it’s wise to invest some of it. Use it to generate wealth instead of simply scraping by. It doesn’t have to be a lot. As little as 1% can lead to life-changing returns down the line. Better yet, it will bring you life-changing results right now. So carve some time out of each day for yourself. Enjoy it. Spend twenty minutes And on the days when you’re feeling really indulgent, spend an hour.