The Elegance of Time ~ 6 Ways to Make the Most of It

IMG_1675It’s that time of year when graduations, weddings, and class reunions fill nearly everyone’s calendar. We give a high school graduation gift to someone who it seems was just a toddler. How can the bride possibly be all grown-up and getting married? The people at our class reunion are old! These events ceremoniously mark the passage of time, and we can’t help but wonder if we’re making the most of it.

In her book Time Alive, contemporary author Alexandra Stoddard writes, “Our time is brief by any standard. Now is the only opportunity we’ll have to give life meaning and find satisfaction. Our entire life depends on the wise use of our moments.”

I gained my first real understanding of the passage of time when I was in the third grade. A reel-to-reel film featured the seasonal progression of an ordinary tree. Classical music played softly in the background as a woman’s soothing voice narrated. Through the magic of time-lapsed photography, tiny spring buds transformed into lush green leaves, morphed into autumn-colored foliage, and fell away leaving stark bare branches.

I was captivated by the beauty, rhythm, and order of time marching forward. Sitting cross-legged on the cold linoleum floor of Lincoln Elementary School, I remember fighting back tears of wonder and joy. In an unforgettable moment of clarity, I became stunningly aware of time and its inevitable and precious passage.

The eight-year-old who holds that memory now qualifies for senior citizen discounts. I hope I’ve made good use of my time so far. When I find myself drifting or dragging from one day to the next, milestones in life remind me time is passing whether or not I am truly living.

Certainly, our individual responsibilities and stage of life determine how we spend our time, but here are six suggestions to help us make the most of our time alive.

  1. Evaluate how you’re spending it. You might be surprised how much time you rack up watching meaningless television, scrolling through social media, or frittering away at things that don’t bring you real meaning or happiness. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” wrote Annie Dillard.
  2. Identify your priorities. Decide what’s most important to you at this time in your life and dedicate your time to those things. Ask yourself writer Mary Oliver’s burning question, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Making the best use of your time often means deciding what we choose not to do.
  3. Picture your ideal day. Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not enough to be busy. The question is what are we busy about?” Considering the realities of your life, what does a well-spent day look like? Map out your morning, afternoon, and evening to create a general schedule that leads to living your best life.
  4. Do it before it’s too late. James 4:14 says, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring…for you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” Maybe you really want to see the Grand Canyon, write a book, plant a rose garden, or say “I love you.” What are you waiting for?
  5. Simplify your possessions. There’s no point in wasting time acquiring, cleaning, organizing, and storing things you don’t need or want. Imagine the time (and space) you could create in your life. Nineteenth century essayist Charles Dudley Warner wrote, “Simplicity is making the journey of this life with just baggage enough.”
  6. Take care of yourself. You can’t make the best use of your time if you don’t feel well physically, mentally, and spiritually. In that memorable film from my early school days, the tree that bloomed and grew beautifully through all the seasons was a healthy one, rooted in purpose, simplicity, and elegance. §

“Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.”
~ Miles Davis

The Elegance of Winter’s Simplicity

Just outside our upstairs bedroom window, winter trees stand like elegant steel sculptures against a silver sky. As I awaken, my eyes trace the trees’ bold, black branches. The bare winter trees inspire me to simplify.

Based on the popularity of books and television shows on the subject, I know I’m not alone in my urge to simplify, nor am I the first to be motivated by nature. Isaac Newton wrote, “Nature is pleased with simplicity.” He was referring to mathematical principles and philosophical reasoning, not kitchen cabinets and sock drawers, but I think his point remains.

During his time at Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau observed, “Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with nature herself.” Wouldn’t we all accept an invitation to more purity and ease?

Inspired by the winter landscape, I am beginning the new year by simplifying. Like beauty, simplicity is in the eye of the beholder, but maybe you can relate to my goal of tackling the following areas.

Physical Possessions ~ I’m reconsidering every item in every drawer, closet, shelf, box, cabinet, glove compartment, and secret nook and cranny. I’m keeping only things I love and that align with my idea of a simple, elegant life. Uncomfortable shoes, be gone!

Health and Finances ~ I don’t know about you, but during the winter months I tend to put such things on the back burner. I have experienced the relief of being on top of my game in these areas, and I’m not going to wait until spring to feel that way again.

Digital Footprint ~ Newton and Thoreau didn’t have to worry about this one, but it’s a struggle for me. Photographs, emails, documents, passwords, downloads and “the cloud” hang over my head. I hope to take control of my technology before it changes, and this old dog has to learn more new tricks.

Activities and Pursuits ~ Just as we have limited space in our cupboards, we have limited space in our days. I’m letting go of vague dreams to travel the world or become a gourmet cook who is fluent in French, but I am fully committed to a small number of true passions.

Thoughts and Emotions ~ Sometimes intangible baggage prevents us from simplifying. Just like physical clutter, we have to let go of the stuff in our head and heart that keeps us from living our best life.

I hope you will join me in answering Thoreau’s call to simplify, simplify! If we get stuck, winter’s elegant inspiration is right outside the window in the clarity of a shaft of sunlight, the peace of dormant fields, the freedom of geese in flight, and the beauty of a snowflake. §

“In winter, the stars seem to have rekindled their fires, the moon achieves a fuller triumph, and the heavens wear a look of more exalted simplicity.”
~ John Burroughs

Being Like Children and Wildflowers

On hot summer days, children play in the lake from dawn until dusk. They do cannonballs off the neighbor’s high wooden deck shouting, “Woo Hoo!” They splash around on paddle boards and rafts without a care in the world. They endlessly climb in and out of the water, running, jumping and swimming with wild abandon.

They remind me of wildflowers that grace winding country roads ~ so natural and charming. Yellow black-eyed Susan, Queen Anne’s lace, blue bachelor’s button and purple coneflowers dance and sway in the summer breeze like happy children.

It was Thoreau who told us, “All good things are wild and free.” While I appreciate formal gardens with highly-cultivated flowers, clean lines and perfect symmetry, they are more like rigid adults. Adults who tug at their swimsuits, hold in their tummies and smooth down windblown hair. Adults who are so self-conscience they miss all the fun.

I want to be more like children and wildflowers. They remind me to loosen up a little, to be more carefree, to accept myself just the way nature intended. They encourage me to stop metaphorically pruning, weeding and digging in quite so hard and just be me. After all, I don’t want to be a bonsai tree. I want to be a wildflower.

I want to swing high into the air with my feet kicked out and my head tilted back. I want to make a chain of clover and wear it in my hair. I want to lay in the grass and watch my thoughts roll by like clouds.

Wherever summer leads you, take time to notice children playing at the park, on neighborhood streets, amusement parks and swimming pools. Be inspired by their curiosity, imagination and lightheartedness. Let their unguarded laughter and movement take you back to your own childlike nature.

Like flowers, children deserve to freely grow in safe and nurturing environments where they can preserve their bright beauty and fresh innocence for as long as possible. I think adults would better serve each other and our world if we could regain some of our guileless naivety and authenticity.

This morning I picked a wild daisy from the woods and put it in a little vase in the kitchen. I slipped on my swimsuit without any self-criticism. Then I ran down to the lake and leapt off the dock with an enthusiastic, “Woo Hoo!” §