As you read the above description, did it seem like a lot of activities for one hour? Or maybe it sounds about on par for your typical morning? Technology is amazing. Consider the amount of time the above scenario would have required 10, 20, or 50 years ago. To determine where to purchase a coffee, one might need to ask an actual person for directions, perhaps even engage in a conversation! In that conversation, the local resident might have even said something like “there’s a diner just a block away” and then recommended some sights along with way. You might have a seat at a restaurant, read the newspaper, and slowly enjoy a cup of coffee. Instead of updating the world about your whereabouts, you can take in your surroundings and tell friends about your adventures later, over dinner rather than over the internet. Checking emails, sending pictures over text message, and making phone calls in the car have replaced writing letters, sending printed photographs to loved ones, and simply relaxing in the downtime of a commute. You can seem empathic to your friend’s loss, while also engaging in 5 other activities on your to-do list. Who needs postcards when you can just “check-in” online? Status updates make it so a friend who you have not spoken to in four years knows every intimate detail of your modern life. Similarly, a person could be very social on a social networking site without speaking to another human being in days. No need to explore the city on foot, you can do it virtually and waste no time getting to where you want to go. In fact, technology allows you to have zero wasted time; you can use every minute to do something productive.
Depending on your age, you may be able to remember life before the internet, email, cell phones, or microwave ovens. When you needed to speak to someone, you might have called their landline and left a message. In the time you had to wait for the person to return the call, there was little you could do about that which you called. You could take a breath; you could pause.
When attending a training on Mantram Repetition conducted by Jill Borman, she mentioned the phrase “vanishing pause time.” Essentially, “vanishing pause time” refers to the notion that with the immense time-saving benefits of technology also comes the loss of time to reflect, relax, breath, collect oneself...pause. One might think that technology frees up time with which we can take a breath, connect with the moment, and engage in more pleasurable activities; instead, the extra free time that technology affords us simply allows us to cram more activities into our day.
Society perpetuates the problem of “vanishing pause time” by expecting people to be more productive with the extra bit of time technology offers. Employers, employees, clients, colleagues, friends, family, etc. expect prompt responses to all attempts to contact. After all, most people have smart phones from which you can retrieve emails, phone calls, and text messages within seconds of them being sent. Even when you are on vacation, how often might a person contact you because “it will only take a second” for you to respond? Have you ever caught yourself wondering why, after an hour, it is taking someone so long to return your call, text, or email?
Technology also gives us more time to use technology; instead of “pausing” or fully engaging in the moment at hand we usually turn to our phones, tablets, computers, etc. How often do you find yourself “killing time” while perusing websites or playing games on your phone? Time is so precious; in fact, it is all we have to work with on this earth. Why do we invest any time at all trying to kill it?
In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle suggests that people use “waiting” time as a moment to practice mindfulness. I would like to echo the recommendation that any time you find yourself waiting, use that time to connect with the moment or merely pause. Thoughts like “I can’t wait until…” operate as excellent cues to practice mindfulness and fully engage in the present moment.
If you are still not sold on the notion that it is beneficial to make a point of engaging in “pause time” so that yours does not completely vanish, consider the idea that downtime actually serves a purpose. Yes, you can be productive by not being productive. One way that this happens occurs through memory consolidation, which is a critical process through which memories are sorted by the hippocampus to become permanent. It is how we learn. Memory consolidation occurs when our mind is not engaged in other activities – during rest, downtime, etc.
"Pause time" is important and it is disappearing from our lives. To keep it from completely vanishing, I suggest people engage the following three activities from time to time: (1) unplug, (2) quit multitasking and engage mindfully in one activity, and (3) pause and do nothing but "be."
"Come with me a while
Sit with me a while
All that I have is time."
- Sean Hayes, "Time"