“If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run”, wrote Rudyard Kipling in his poem ‘If-’, “Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it”.
We seem to be taking Kipling’s words rather literally these days. We continuously place our most important asset, our minds and hearts, into the mental equivalent of a noisy town square, as we assail ourselves with the incessant noise of expectations, judgments and triggers. Our minds struggle to simultaneously process workplace pressures, peers getting accolades on LinkedIn, friends taking holidays on Instagram, celebrities’ TV shenanigans and the latest 40-under-40 lists.
Even during vacations, we are often in a revved-up state, as we fervently tick off items from our bucket list, or listen to podcasts on topics like ‘twenty hacks to use your break productively’. Tracking apps have not spared even sleeping and walking. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, said, ‘We’re competing with sleep.” As of now, Netflix seems to be winning.
Ambition and activity certainly have their place in our lives, but it might be time to also make space for the joy of time that is free of the burden of expectation. Bridges and buildings are built with some slack to sway in order to absorb strong winds; we are no different. A day or week that is tightly crammed with activity is fragile, ready to crumble at the slightest additional stress. It is not surprising that we always seem to be one crisis away from a breakdown. To quote W.H Davies, “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”
The solution is to embrace the concept of the ‘forgiving’ minute, the minute, which is free of the burden of goals and preconceived notions, the minute, which is free to just be.
When we give the minute its freedom, we are free to be inspired and draw from the unlimited reservoir of creativity of the universe. Not surprisingly, our best ideas often come to us over a quiet, long walk or an unplanned, serendipitous moment in a café. My personal experience bears this out. For years, I struggled to make time for my writing passion in the midst of the bustle of corporate life. My first book KaalKoot, was eventually written in the quiet, solitary slices of time that flights and airline lounges provided me, away from emails and work calls.
It is in this zone of silence that sits between oceans of activity that, to paraphrase Swami Vivekananda, God is to be found. A quote attributed to Viktor Frankl goes, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Just as cities breathe through open spaces, relationships too breathe through giving each other space. To quote Kahlil Gibran, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you.” My experience in the corporate world showed me that businesses too need space to grow; companies that breathlessly chase quarterly results often miss the bigger picture.
There is a lot of discussion about safe spaces nowadays. The real superpower would be to create a safe space in our own minds, a space that is free of judgments and expectations.
So how do we create this space? It begins with setting aside at least some time every day that is free from pulls and pushes, both external and internal. This could be over a walk or a swim or involving art or music, but it is important to feel free to dream and let the mind wander. This is the time for the mind to be free from the clutches of the ‘haftas’, a word used by Stephen King to describe things that scream for our attention, like responsibilities, deadlines and unpaid bills.
However, this is easier said than done. To begin with, we need to re-think our self-concept. We are scared to just be, because we have identified so much of our self-concept with ‘what we do’ or ‘what we achieve’ rather than ‘who we are’. We also need to let go of the illusion of control, as we let our conscious thoughts and actions subside, and allow our inner wisdom and subconscious mind to join the dots.
Most importantly, we need to be tolerant of what we find within us. The journey starts with awareness, then forgiveness, then acceptance. We need to embrace ourselves, warts and all. That is the true ‘safe space’.
S.Venkatesh is the bestselling author of AgniBaan and KaalKoot, and an investor who has held leadership positions with JP Morgan, Credit Suisse and Macquarie. He writes about mindfulness and its link to creativity, business and wealth.