Violence against Self
Taking Time Out
As the Thomas Merton quote points out, if you abuse your time, you are participating in violence against self. This may be in the form of overscheduling to the point that you rob yourself of the experience of being alive. Or it may be in the form of allocating your time in a manner that doesn't reflect your inner priorities. Both create a distortion or infringement of self through strain and turbulence. When you treat your time as though you are a machine—a doing machine—you are committing violence against the sacredness of life itself. Whenever I do Life Balance work with organizational leaders, I have them make a list of their values and prioritize them, then compare their priorities with how they actually spend their time. The disparity is usually shocking.
Another abuse of time that disturbs your well-being occurs if you succumb to the modern-day compulsion to avoid boredom at all costs. In our stimulation-based culture, there is near hysteria around constantly seeking fulfillment through activity, which leaves no time for the quietness of simply being present with yourself. Do you allow yourself time each day, or even weekly, to exist without an external purpose and without even background music or television? Empty time is vital to your well-being, and to deny yourself this nourishment is an act of violence.
You may ask why you continue to abuse your time and your body when you have the option to live more peacefully. Or you may say that you feel as though you have no choice but to be harsh toward yourself because your life situation is such a struggle. Under either circumstance you push the body and strain the mind violently because you are filled with the tension that comes with the feeling that there's not enough of something in your life, whether it's money, love, adventure, or confidence.
Feelings of inadequacy, vulnerability, longing, or not having enough are an inevitable part of the human experience. If you, like most people, have not found spiritual freedom, you cannot stop them from arising. But you can stop such feelings from controlling your life by changing how you perceive them. If you refuse to identify with these feelings, disown them as being neither you nor yours, thus seeing them simply as emotional states of mind that come and go, you will discover there is the possibility for some inner harmony even under difficult circumstances.
For instance, let's assume you cannot change your work schedule, and it seems so overwhelming to you that you regularly get very tense and anxious about it. You can experience the schedule as much less violent by not thinking about it in its entirety except when you are in planning mode. The rest of the time you just do what the plan calls for, concentrating on the task in front of you without adding the thought, "Here I am with all this work and so much more to do this week."
Said another way, don't make a panoramic movie out of your difficult schedule such that you are constantly seeing yourself doing all that has to be done, as if it were going to be done all at once. Instead just do what has to be done right now, for that's all you can do. It may sound like a simple thing to do, but it is very subtle and difficult, yet so liberating!