I’m getting a lot of practice now with “spending time.” That may seem like a meaningless phrase but it’s not for me. It’s about focusing intently on the choices I have with time, not just letting it slip away unanchored.
We have some choice over how we use resources like money to buy things or space in the yard to plant things. If I’m just “passing time,” that’s, well, a little more passive, and that’s often what I’m doing.
If there’s one thing different about me post-cancer (there’s actually more than one thing different, but follow me for the sake of argument) it’s that I am now spending my time more than just passing it. I’m much more aware of what I’m doing with MY time.
Maybe that would have happened anyway in the course of getting older and knowing I have less time to spend. I don’t know.
When you’re four or five or six, a summer can seem like an eternity, and there are no consequences, let alone awareness of wasting time.
When we get older, we have the impression that time is moving faster and faster and faster. A day a week, a month, go by in a flash. It can feel like one’s life is slipping away. That’s because it is.
What to do, then?
I feel now that it’s imperative to make the most of my time. I do not mean that I need to be always doing, producing, achieving. On the contrary, sometimes doing is not the best use of my time. Sometimes sitting in my living room gazing out the window, watching birds land on plants, is a perfectly fine way to spend my time.
I look back now on my youth and even my early middle age years and realize how much of my time was spent in ways I would not now choose. Notice I’m not saying I spent my time unwisely. I’m not going there. I’m not going to judge myself as having “wasted” time. I was making choices that worked for me then, and I was learning along the way.
I used to spend a lot of my time doing things on other people’s agendas. It seemed normal. It does not seem normal now.
I walk my dog every day in a neighborhood field, and it is my great pleasure to either walk alone with her while pondering and praying, or to run into a friendly neighbor and have a chat while we walk our dogs together.
One recent day at the field, I ran into someone who was intent on bending my ear, for a really long time. It wasn’t an unpleasant conversation. It wasn’t a conversation at all, as he was just talking at me, not looking at me and not pausing to hear my response. I became aware of how much I didn’t like this use of my time, and yet I let it go on and on, maybe for 45 minutes, not extricating myself, until I finally said I needed to continue my walk and wished him a nice afternoon.
I made a mental note: don’t do it again. I’ve since run into this person several times. I wave hello and keep moving.
This is new for me. In the old, pre-cancer years, I would have indulged someone else’s use of my time, for their own agenda, not once but many times. Why? To be nice. To be liked. To feel like I was having an exchange even if it really wasn’t.
Now I hear my own inner query as I assess a situation: is this a good use of MY time? If not, I want to politely move on, not later but now.
I think: is it a good use of my time to explain something to someone who’s not that interested? Should I wait and wait and wait for someone to treat me well? Do I need to respond to every comment made to me in email or social media? No.
I feel less engagement with the outside world. I feel more engagement with the inner world of my own thoughts and feelings. I’m more self-contained. I just don’t need or want interaction as much as I used to.
I think as we grow older, we have the choice to become more of who we really are, or to keep pretending.
I find myself thinking more about how to spend my time and, mostly, who I want to spend it with. An afternoon with myself and my dog doing something I enjoy is so much better than hanging out with someone I’m not really that fond of just to not be “alone.” Alone, after all, is what I am even when I am also with someone else.
For Thanksgiving this year, I was invited and chose to hang out with some people I don’t know very well but with whom I feel comfortable. We know each other through a weekly small dog social. We haven’t spent time with each other reviewing our life histories or our myriad current concerns. I know only a little about their religions and politics and they’re quite different than mine.
Mostly what we do together (and with the dogs) is play and laugh. What a good way to spend time!
The key about spending my time with someone else is whether I can still feel the contentment of aloneness while being with that other person. If I’m with a calming friend or joining a neighbor on a dog walk, then the interaction is just as good as blissful solitude, maybe even better, briefly, to get input from someone else, hear a funny story or learn something new. But if I were to now have a choice to spend time with someone who’s snarky or who prattles on in monologue, then alone would be far preferable.
I used to be drawn to spending time with activities and people I found “interesting.” It has turned out that “interesting” is sometimes soothing, sometimes hurtful. I now don’t care that much about “interesting.” Where I want to spend my time is with the inner feeling of safety and contentment. That’s the new currency. It’s what I want in exchange for my time.