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Climbing out of time's narrow grip by loving whatever you are doing.


A few weeks ago I was walking my daughter to kindergarten when suddenly she stopped. "Look, there's a rainbow in the water!" she exclaimed, pointing to a nearby sprinkler. I looked impatiently at my watch and then up at the water glinting in the morning sun. Instead of my usual, "Yes, that's nice" response, I stopped beside my daughter and stared. There really was a rainbow in the water! And it was beautiful. Then I noticed the crystal blue sky and the leafy green branches of the tree next to us.

As I sat in front of my computer later that day, I kept thinking, I almost missed it. I almost missed that precious moment with my daughter. And for what? One more minute on the watch.

In our rush to get through the day, we sometimes end up missing the day altogether.

In our rush to get through the day, we sometimes end up missing the day altogether. The tendency to chain ourselves to the relentless movement of the clock seems to be an adult phenomenon. Children don't do this. They stop to stare at rainbows and birds and tiny ants. They lose their sense of time in the simplest of games. They don't check their watches every few minutes or wish they were doing something else. It is easy to dismiss this sense of timelessness as a luxury of a carefree childhood, but this is not entirely accurate. As adults, we can also choose to climb beyond time. But it takes work.

People experience time differently, often depending on what we are doing at that particular point in the day. We all know those rare activities in our lives that make time irrelevant. When we are engaged in these experiences we feel most alive and full of purpose. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this state of mind "flow," the psychology of optimal experience. Common examples of flow activities include climbing a mountain, painting, playing a challenging game, reading and even participating in a good conversation.

How often do we engage in these activities that make us feel alive and above time? What percentage of our day do we spend in flow? The key to climbing out of the clock's narrow grip seems to be a matter not of always doing what we love but rather to love whatever we are doing:

"But because almost any activity can produce flow provided the relevant elements are present, it is possible to improve the quality of life by making sure that clear goals, immediate feedback, skills balanced to action opportunities and the remaining conditions of flow are as much as possible a constant part of everyday life." (Finding Flow, Csikszentmihalyi, 34 )

We can transform any part of our day into a source of energy and life instead of just doing what we have to do.

The implications of this idea of flow are enormous. It means that we can transform any part of our day into a source of energy and life instead of just doing what we have to do. We just need to make sure that we are focused on the goal of that activity, and that we give ourselves the feedback that we need. In Jewish parlance, this is called "Kavannah," directing your mind to the task at hand and focusing on its higher purpose. You can do this while washing the dishes or even paying the bills. People who often find themselves in the state of flow are people who like to do almost everything because they learn to invest the best of themselves in whatever they are doing.

Engaging fully in life does not necessarily require making big choices. Sometimes flow means just choosing to notice what is happening around us. See that elderly woman who needs help with her bags. Notice the crying child lost in the supermarket. Staring at the sunset.

The other day my daughter told me, "I am sending you a kiss, and it is shaped like a butterfly!" And I saw the butterfly flying towards me in its multi-colored beauty, and I began to understand how it is possible for a person to take empty space and fill it with life.

June 14, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 10

(10) Donna Nitti, June 18, 2008 10:04 PM

Imagine..As our blessings are in the present so should we be

Judaism is one of the most beautiful and awesome experiences I have had in my life. One of the key teachings of our religion is that one can experience closeness to G-d in ANYTHING one does. The Talmud bases this teaching on the verse "In all your ways know Him (Prov. 3:6)
Before saying our prayers we are asked to prepare, in this preparation and directed intention, or Kavannah, is where we may experience the flow the author so eloquently wrote about. We may experience this flow in the most mundane of acts. It is IN these "moments" that I refresh my soul by drawing close to G-d.
It must be our INTENTION to elevate any given moment. We are only asked to account for our actions and behavior not the seconds of the clock.


(9) edward, June 18, 2008 5:29 PM

To Scott and Gitty

To Gitty: I understood the point of the article, I was just giving another possible reason for our obsession with time.
To Scott: It is clear you never experienced real prayer, if you did you wouldn't miss it for the world (an exageration but you get the point)

(8) Gitty, June 17, 2008 4:08 PM

To "Edward" You are nmissing the point of the article

to "Edward": You are missing the point of the article. The author is not saying to ignore the clock altogether, or, G-d forbid, times for minyan, learning, etc. She is saying to be AWARE of the miracle of Hashem's creations and the beauty that exists around us in our regular everyday activities that will lead us to be much happier human beings and much better Jews.

(7) Scott, June 17, 2008 8:43 AM

Edward: Wake Up!

To Edward:
To many your statements would be true. However, one major issue Judaism has today is that it's lost its ability (in some) to appreciate the world that Hashem has given us. Skip a prayer for a special moment, man. That moment has the ability to give you much more insight than the rote prayer you utter out of obligation to time. Hashem did not create robots to ignore nature....but people , to appreciate it.

(6) edward, June 16, 2008 9:46 AM

good idea

great idea but in our religion where every second is accounted for by Hashem (ex. make sure you are aware of davening times and minyan times, don't miss even a second of learning time) it is very hard to not pay close attention to time.

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