A Zen Approach to Time Management

by John Newport, Ph.D.

As the story goes, three Japanese businessmen - two young men and a Zen master - were at a subway station in New York City en route to an important appointment. One of the men exclaimed - "If we take the express train rather than the local, we'll save 20 minutes." Great idea, thought the others, as they boarded the express train for their Uptown destination.

When they arrived at their station, the Zen master seated himself on a comfortable park bench, basking in the sun and feeding a couple of squirrels who were playing in the park. His young associates were quite perplexed by his behavior and asked "What in the world are you doing?" The master replied - "I'm spending the time that we saved!"

As we go about our day-to-day struggles in the frantic world we live in, we constantly find ourselves pressed to save time in an effort to be more efficient and productive. All too often, life is reduced to an incessant juggling act where we are constantly trying to cram more and more activities in our already jammed schedules. Today while I was driving home, I actually saw a man passing me in the fast lane, brushing his teeth as he was driving!

Unquestionably, efficiency is a virtue that is highly valued in our culture, and is a key survival tool for coping with a hectic and often uncertain world. Yet if we are not careful, we end up destroying our serenity (and risking our sobriety) by sacrificing on the altar of efficiency the things in life that are truly most important. As a wise man once said, "it is highly unlikely that either you or I will end up lying on our deathbed at some point in the future, bemoaning the fact that we failed to spend more time at the office!" Indeed, from a quality of life perspective, we all need to step back and ask ourselves - "How am I spending the time that I am saving?" I'm talking about taking the time to watch the sunset, spending a lazy afternoon sleeping on the beach (which I did last Sunday down at Torrey Pines), or taking a few minutes to listen to the birds as we leave the house in the morning. Or how about taking the time to really be with our children and grandchildren as they are growing up (all too fast) - in short, freeing up the time to cherish and savor the things in life that really matter.

When Ann and I married almost 20 years ago (it was the second marriage for both of us), my mother gave us a beautiful poem that she wrote herself. It was titled "I have a dream", and began with "I have a dream, that Ann and John will walk the highway of life, hand in hand together." But the real clincher is the closing line, which reads - "And above all else I have a dream, that they will not forget to smell the roses!" Truly words to live by - thank you Mom!

As the saying goes, "we teach what we most need to learn". Over the past several months as I have been "jamming" to put the finishing touches on the revisions to my first book, on top of a hectic day job, I have all too often failed to follow my own advice to take a few deep breaths and just SLOW DOWN. We all need to nurture the art learning how to smell the roses - working those very special moments into each and every day, and savoring them to the fullest.

Until next time - To your health!

Spread the word!

I encourage you to reproduce this article and share copies with your friends. Treatment centers and counseling professionals are encouraged to share copies with their clients. A fuller set of guidelines for integrating a wellness lifestyle into your recovery program is provided in The Wellness - Recovery Connection: Charting Your Pathway to Optimal Health While Recovering from Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, by John Newport, Ph.D. (Health Communications, Inc., 2004).

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