A Time for Being

A friend told me a story recently. She was sitting, in a health centre, waiting for her name to be called for an x-ray. My friend was distractedly half-aware of a stall nearby where a lady was selling jewellery and head scarves. Most of my friend’s attention was on the long list of things she had to do that day, thinking about how she was going to get through it all and hoping, silently pleading that she wouldn’t be delayed too long awaiting her turn.

My friend’s focus on this quiet, mental juggling, was broken when she heard the voice from a customer at the stall who was trying on a head scarf. “Does this look alright,” she asked of the vendor, “I have three young children and I don’t want them to laugh at me.” She looked at herself again in the mirror and, mostly to herself, said, “Oh dear……..I haven’t got time for cancer.”

Suddenly my friend’s to do list paled into insignificance. Somehow it seemed indulgent to be fretting over trivial, transient, mundane tasks whilst this lady was wondering how to fit in managing her cancer with three young children to care for. In a moment my friend’s perspective shifted. Slow down, she told herself, realise what’s important; lift your head up from your ‘to do’ list and reflect on what’s really going on.

This poignant story reminded me of something I had read recently on mindfulness in a book of that title by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. In the book Williams and Penman talk about how many of us spend much of our lives doing – focused on our ‘to do’ list, hurrying on auto-pilot toward the next deadline – rather than being.

They extrapolate that for a person of 30 with a chronological life expectancy of 80, they might seem to have 50 years of life remaining. But what if that person spends 14 hours of each waking day on autopilot, doing. Then, s/he is only being 2 hours per day, at most. Shockingly her life expectancy is now really only six years and three months.

People spend time and money, in the gym, taking drugs and vitamins, searching for ways to extend their life-span. And yet, a ready and free solution is available to us all. It simply involves shifting gear, taking root, reconnecting with our selves, accepting rather than striving, slowing down. It involves doing less and beingmore, if only for an extra 2 hours per day. Suddenly, we have doubled our life expectancy.

So, watch out for the woman with the headscarf in your life. Lift your head up. Wake up to the life you have. Find a time for being.