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Never Enough Time: Allowing for Unstructured Unfolding

Posted: July 25, 2015 by Nani Waddoups

Right now, in this moment, I am writing about time. It is somewhat difficult to stay present as I write. My mind can easily “future trip” into imagining you, the reader, reading what I am currently writing. I can also find my focus interrupted by voices: the voice of an editor, the voice of the critic – “Sure has been a while since you’ve done a newsletter!” Most disruptive to my efforts to stay here, right now, writing about time, is a low-grade anxious hum emanating from deep within me, and the message of that hum is that I really don’t have time to be sitting here writing about time.

Most likely, you have read more than one article or book about our time-starved lives, and have had at least some days where it doesn’t seem as though you have enough time to do all the things you want to do. This is not a foreign topic. Yet despite our awareness that we would benefit from doing a bit less, or trying to be more efficient, I’m guessing that you too can find yourself putting off things that really matter to you because, well, you “don’t have enough time.”

So back to me, here, writing about time. Time is a construct, of course, a system that includes past, present, and future. Time is measured by calendars and clocks as a way of creating a structure, a history, a narrative of our experience of life. My conscious day begins at 5:30 am and ends somewhere around 9:30 pm. Each day is divided into increments, longer increments on either side of my work day, and one-hour increments at my office. The tasks of my life fill those hourly increments: exercise, seeing clients, eating meals, chores, connecting with family and friends. It seems that all the slots are full. When, then, would I have an increment or two to sit and write about time?

Now. It is happening right now. How is it happening?

I had an unexpected, unaccounted-for open slot of time in my day today. When I was first aware of it, my reaction was to reach for my to-do list, thinking I would use the time to complete some deferred chores: dust the bookshelves, run to Powell’s, purge my basement, vacuum the car. Instead, however, I consulted a different list, a more inclusive list, a list that includes things that are really important to me beyond the to-dos of chores. One of the things on this list is “Write.” I paused, and after reining in the impulse to DO something, I simply sat and began.

I’ve been with you now for an hour (in my time). There have been other writing sessions where I’ve written whole articles or newsletters or papers in a concise sitting. Today, I have been here for an hour, and while nothing extraordinary has been written, what is notable is the absence of the hum. I gave myself this time to write. A permission of sorts. There is nothing else I am supposed to be doing. My experience of it has been relaxing, pleasurable, expansive. In fact, it seems I’ve been sitting here for hours.

Meditators know this: sitting in quiet reflection can make time seem to expand. Having a time frame, even a defined time frame, that is free to evolve and unfold as it will, can have the effect of being on a long trip, with plenty of time for whatever comes next. It is not that this time is not available to us, or that there isn’t enough of it; it is that we often don’t allow ourselves to use it for what really matters, for something that nurtures us.

Unstructured time. Try it. Be aware of those unexpected openings in your daily schedule, and give yourself the gift of unstructured time. Or, if you must, block it out on your calendar!

Tags: mood and feelings, anxiety

Nani Waddoups (she/her)

Licensed Professional Counselor

Navigating toward existential meaning, and consideration of conditions at play are the roots of my counseling philosophy and style.

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