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Is it Possible to Waste Time?

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Not if You’re a meditator.

December 26, 2020

“In all your life, only a few moments matter. Mostly you never get a good look at them except in hindsight, long after they’ve zipped past you.” From Tana French’s New York Times best-seller, Faithful Place.

As a child, I was pretty serious. I thought about big things. What does it mean that the universe is infinite? How can the trillions of cells in our bodies work together in a way that has us walking, talking, loving, hating, and making babies?

Today I’d call them existential thoughts — ideas about unexplainable and incomprehensible things that are still true. I remember wanting to talk about stuff that no one else cared to talk about.

My mom used to squirm when she came to a stoplight that had a too-long red light. Too long, meaning any time at all. When I asked her what was making her so uncomfortable, she didn’t have an answer but finally said she just felt like she had to get on to the next thing, get to wherever she was going.

My mom’s discomfort with waiting got me thinking at a very young age about the concept of time. And I remember having the idea that I wasn’t sure it mattered whether I was here or there; as long as I was awake and noticing what was happening around and inside me, I wasn’t wasting time.

Years later, I read something by Byron Katie that echoed my sentiments about time. In her best-seller, Loving What Is, Katie said something like this: “We do three things in life. We sit, we stand, we lie horizontal. The quality of our lives is determined by how present we are in any of those states.”

Presence is the quality of being aware of what is happening inside and outside you, right now. Mindfulness is the ability to meet that present moment with openness, willingness, and curiosity.

Katie’s point was that whether we’re here or there, in a fine chair, or a cheap chair, or a red, white, and blue chair, as long as we’re present, we’re not wasting time, even if we’re uncomfortable.

Because life is about experiences — good, bad, or indifferent — If we’re awake in every moment, we are getting all the juice out of the orange.

When I became a meditator, that idea became even more concrete.

Mindfulness meditation isn’t just something you must do in a chair with your legs crossed and your eyes closed.

We can do it anytime, anywhere, doing anything. We can do it at a stoplight, while we’re driving, in line to pay for groceries, doing the dishes, or rolling around on the floor with a five-year-old.

If my mom had known about mindfulness and being fully present, maybe she would have been more comfortable at stoplights, and we’d have had more conversations in those precious moments together.

A great book from the 1980s by Rick Fields and other New Age Journal co-editors, was Chop Wood, Carry Water. It offered the message: “Before enlightenment, we chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, we chop wood and carry water.”

The point was that with enlightenment, nothing changes externally. We’re still doing all the things we need to do to survive, and hopefully, flourish. But after enlightenment, we know we’re doing them.

I suspect many of us go from birth to death, never actually being present, except occasionally in hindsight. I figured out early on that wasn’t how I wanted to live.

A new year brings new opportunities. New beginnings. New adventures. New challenges. Let’s wring all the juice out of this next year. We have the gift of time; let’s not waste it.

Much love,


  1. Ryan Sarti says:

    What a great article!. Uplifting in a time when so many seem to be so fatigued from the chaos that seems to surround us. So many great ideas packed into a short and powerful piece. Great things to ponder as we chop wood and carry water.

    • Robyn says:

      So good to hear from you Ryan at this year-end. So glad you found it beneficial, and I totally loved your last line :-).

  2. Ed Gorman says:

    I just read this posting . Funny thing is, I was watering the grass when I was gifted with these simple but profound Pearl’s of wisdom. Have not thought of life in these terms . I can relate to being frustrated with life not going the way I expect it to . It helped me to remember to take things one step at a time . Because that is all anyone really has ..Do not consider myself enlightened – feel rather new to this school of thought. Just want to pick up what I can from those further along the trail . Thanks !

    • Robyn says:

      Thank you for sharing Ed. Chopping wood, carrying water, or watering the grass, waking up to the gift of life is sort of the whole ballgame in my mind. Like you, I don’t consider myself enlightened, but sometimes, for a brief moment, I taste it and it’s really good. :-).

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