Filling Time

By Jim Selman | Bio

I notice lately that a lot of my conversations with older friends revolve around the question “What do you want to do?” This is usually followed by a smorgasbord of choices ranging from recreation to entertainment to ‘just hanging out’. It sounds a lot like the conversations my children used to have on a Saturday afternoon. It seems to me that this kind of conversation is about filling time, rather than intentional or purposeful choices. It is about picking from available options, rather than creating the game we might create if there were no constraints. When we were very young, we seemed to be much more adept at creating games out of thin air with a lot less effort.

This habit of just ‘filling time’ is a dangerous practice as we age insofar as it becomes a habit that blinds us to possibilities and our capacity to create our own realities at any age.

I am learning to change the question from “What do I want to do?” to:

•    “What do I want to accomplish?”
•    “How do I want to feel?”
•    “What do I want to learn today?” or
•    “What can I contribute in this situation?”

It is not that I am against just doing whatever comes up, but I don’t want to lose the distinction between creating time—living intentionally—and just drifting for the rest of my life.

When our principal concern is filling time we are usually reacting to feelings of or fear of boredom. Boredom is a mood that says that the circumstances—whatever I am doing—is the source of my experience and that I require ‘stimulation’ to feel well. Most of my work is teaching others that we bring our wellbeing to life, we don’t get it from life. This is particularly relevant as we age, since the ageing conversation is often one of “I can’t do what I used to”, or “I can’t do what I want to do because I am too old”. This point of view fuels our cultural notion that to age means to decline, which for many leads to isolation and loneliness.

The fact is that our time is always filled. We are alive. The questions we need to ask are how will we relate to whatever our time is filled with and are we empowered to create different ways and styles of living if we want to

I want to emphasize that most of this ‘time-filling habit’ is not conscious and we are mostly blind to its consequences. Like all habits, it occurs in the background of our awareness and appears ‘normal’ and obvious. To break any habit is a process of first becoming aware of its automatic occurrence and then committing to a different practice until the new replaces the old. In this case, a new question and learning to be satisfied and to accept that whatever we are doing and however we are feeling is exactly as it should be. When we do this, we can then create whatever we intend and be present moment to moment.

© 2008 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.