I often hear clients at my Wimbledon counseling practice say something like ‘Gosh, this week has flown, it doesn’t seem like a week ago since I was last here’. They are reflecting that their relationship to time feels out of sync in some way. I myself often find days seemingly disappear in all the hustle and bustle of living and sometimes get that sinking feeling that time is fleeting without really being ‘in it’. Having recently re-read the wonderful book Full Catastrophe Living I am reminded that it is all too common for us to have a complicated relationship to time –sometimes experiencing there is too much, not enough, or that it is running out. In his book, Jon Kabat-Zinn refers to these feelings as experiences of ‘time stress’ and as the result of our tendency not to live mindfully in the moment; to be present.
Indeed, suffering from time stress is a common reason for people to come to therapy –their symptoms being feelings of loneliness, boredom, regret, unfulfilled potential, fear of aging and death, unfinished business. It is interesting to look at these problems therapeutically in terms of the client’s relationship to time, and their experience of living authentically and fully in the present moment.
Unsurprisingly, work in the therapy room is often about orienting clients to an experience of the here-and-now, maybe by having them tune into their breathing or to their present experience of feelings and sensations in their bodies. This is an attempt to have the client become fully present to what they are experiencing right now as they talk about an aspect of their life or recount an event from the past. Sometimes we don’t actually know how we felt about something that has already happened –we may have been conditioned not to feel or told that our feelings at the time were wrong. This can therefore be a very profound experience in the counseling room to reconnect to those feelings in the present moment. As Kabat-Zinn points out, life can really only be measured in terms of the present moment, or as he rather alarmingly puts it ‘we only have moments to live’. However as modern life continues to become increasingly fast paced, we are becoming increasingly distracted from our direct experience of the present moment. This can lead to feeling a sense of alienation from one’s self.
I intend to expand further on the ways in which time stress causes disregulation in our lives in future posts but in the meantime would like to leave you with a simple idea to help draw your attention to your experience of the present moment. Simply close your eyes and gently focus your attention on your breath –not thinking about it as such, but feeling the sensation of breathing as you inhale and as you exhale. Notice that your mind will soon wander to various thoughts and see if you can let go of these thoughts and simply bring your attention back to your breathing. Stay with your breathing for as long as can. This is the basis of mindfulness meditation of which you can read more about in Jon’s fantastic book or indeed from his series of mindfulness meditation CDs.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full Catastrophe Living. London: Piatkus.
Kabat-Zinn, J. Guided Mindfulness Meditation [Audio CD]