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I had the privilege of knowing someone who had full possession of every moment — all the time there is. And he gave it away freely.
Time isn’t a thing, of course. We can’t really possess it or give it in the same way as we can give an object. When I say Eknath Easwaran had all the time there is, I mean that he lived completely in the present. Instead of being hurried by time, he was master of it.
Living in the moment is not the prerogative of mystics. It is prized by athletes, dancers, and other performing artists. Without warning, they tell us, they sometimes find themselves so absorbed in what they are doing that events slip into slow motion; time even seems to stop. They forget themselves, the limitations of the body and their everyday personality; there is nothing but them and the ball, them and the music, them and a vision too rarefied to be described. They are experiencing “flow”; they are “in the zone."
Experiences like these, when one is lifted out of ordinary time, are often accompanied by a sense of profound peace. Scientists explain this by brain chemistry, but to Easwaran: brain changes are effects. The cause, he explained, is that complete absorption brings a healing pause in the frantic activity of the mind. Whatever we are doing in that instant fills our consciousness. We are too absorbed to worry to fret over the past or feel anxious about the future, to be divided by conflicts or dwell on what others might be thinking of us; we simply live. It’s as if the flickering of thoughts is our real clock: when it slows significantly we are lifted into a higher level of awareness.
This is a precious clue, Easwaran tells us. It suggests that the secret of fulfillment lies not outside us but in the way the mind works. We may associate being “in the zone" with performances like gymnastics or ballet, but activity is not what matters. What these peak experiences teach us is that living in the moment is a mental skill, a matter of training the mind — and that means it can be learned. We don’t have to be a star performer or rocket scientist to learn this; it’s within reach of all of us.
In this book, Easwaran offers ways to develop the skill of living in the present so that we can open up the promise held within each moment of our lives. The more we practice, the more we discover in the time we have — and so the nearer we move to having all the time in the world. That, Easwaran says, is our birthright as human beings. It has already been granted to us; we simply have to learn how to claim it.
When I met him in 1960, soon after his arrival in California us a professor from India on the Fulbright program, Easwaran was full to overflowing with the desire to teach these skills. A born teacher, he had distilled his experience into an eight- point program that he himself followed. In addition to his obligations at the University of California, he had speaking engagements throughout the Bay Area and even some popular lectures on campuses in Southern California.
The schedule was always tight, but he was never in a hurry not once, then or since, did I see him pressured into speeding up to get more done in the time available. By his example, he was constantly teaching what he knew from experience: the most effective way to accomplish a lot is to do one thing at a time and do it well.
The first time I remember Easwaran asking me to slow down was on a beautiful autumn afternoon in 1960. I was driving him back to Berkeley from Walnut Creek, where he had given an informal lecture on the philosophy of ancient India to a small but enthusiastic audience. The freeway was new and broad and there was almost no traffic. I had no reason to hurry, but under these conditions it was natural — and fun — to go the speed limit. So it came as a surprise to me when he asked me to slow down — I wasn’t exceeding the limit, after all. But I dropped back any- way.
Yet habit is habit and the speedometer gradually worked its way back up.
Then he asked me the second time to slow down. This seemed ridiculous. I felt a little annoyed, as I had as a teenager when I was learning to drive on rural roads in Virginia and my dad would tell me the same thing. But then I remembered. This man is from India, where the pace of life is very slow. Why else would he want to go slow? So I slowed down.
This was my first lesson in slowing down. It took me a long time to understand why I should and much longer to learn how.’
In those days, I simply couldn’t understand why Easwaran placed so much importance on such matters. I thought it might be cultural. As an American, I took hurry for granted and considered it self—evident that speed means efficiency and faster is better. I soon learned that efficiency comes from complete concentration on one thing at a time, even when one has to manage several tasks. The secret is the unbroken flow of attention that characterizes peak performance.
Easwaran enjoyed watching sports — especially those he understood from playing them, such as tennis and soccer — because he enjoyed the concentration of a champion. I began to see that he too moved with the efficiency and grace of the performers he liked to watch. They understood the “inner game? he said; they knew the importance of the mind. That was his field, the mind. He wanted everyone to see that this training of the mind is the secret not just of first—rate tennis or ballet but of everything — of what he called the art of living — and that, just as in tennis or ballet, it could be learned. He was, if you like, everyone's personal trainer in the inner game of living.
The word “slow” is misleading when it implies sluggish. Easwaran was unhurried, but he was never sluggish. In an emergency he could act instantly, before those around him grasped what was happening. When planning was called for, however, he would often slow down like a gymnast poised before bursting into her routine. It was as if physical activity was a distraction at such times; everything important was happening deep inside. (I have read something very similar about Mahatma Gandhi.) Then, suddenly, he would act, still without hurry but with intense precision, setting in motion one by one the things that needed to be done.
Helping others to slow down occupied Easwaran’s attention from the beginning of his career as a spiritual teacher until the end of his life. It was part of a message meant for the world, but nowhere seemed a better platform for delivering it than the United States.
In this book he describes the shock he felt on arriving in New York and seeing first-hand the pace at which Americans were moving. (Even then! Today 1959 seems leisurely) That first day he says, he decided never to get caught up in this kind of rat race — and not only that, but to help everyone around him to slow down too. At that point he was still putting the finishing touches on his Eight Point Program. Two of the points suddenly jumped in importance: slowing down and one-pointed attention, his term for doing one thing at a time with an undivided mind.
At first I don’t think anyone listening to him understood why a spiritual teacher should place so much emphasis on anything so commonplace. Today it’s clear that he was seeing what lay in store for our society if the pressures to hurry were not reduced. Thoughts are seeds, he explained; if cultivated, they have to grow into action and bear fruit with the passage of time. America was sowing the seeds of hurry; the fruit to come was all too clear.
The seventies brought the first signs of an adverse effect on health. Type a Behavior and Your Heart called attention to what Drs. Ray H. Rosenman and Meyer Friedman called “hurry sick- ness? A syndrome of time—driven behavior that they felt was ships in lives impoverished by years of hard driving in the fast lane. Dr. Friedman and his colleagues were demonstrating that even when time pressure is forced on us, we can learn to deal with it in freedom.
Yet life kept on getting faster. In the mid-eighties, Time magazine asked “Is America Running Out of Time?” in a cover feature full of warnings but short on suggestions for what to do. Newspaper and magazine articles talked about the hazards of “kids on the fast track? Whose hurried lives and packed schedules mirrored those of their parents. Whenever Easwaran went out, he came back struck by how few people looked happy. Everyone was in a hurry — hurrying themselves, hurrying each other, hurrying their children. Therapist friends told us that each year they saw more clients complaining of the stress of a life with too much to do. Those who specialized in family counseling reported additional casualties: parents too busy to see each other, friendships slipping apart, children with stress disorders like those of executives.
Recently some thoughtful books on these themes have begun to appear, joining articles in business and women’s magazines and even professional journals. Hurry is no longer “cool’ no longer a mark of efficiency and success. And patience, thank- fully is beginning to be seen not as weakness but as a virtue that measures inner strength: the capacity not to be thrown off balance when things don’t go our way All these developments may be signs that our society is waking up to the toll that hurry and multitasking take not just on individual lives but on civilization itself.
I said that hurry was Easwaran’s first concern on arriving in the US. It stayed with him to the end. In 1998, while he was in Chronic pain, Easwaran agreed to give a talk at a local community college on a topic of his choice. In those days he rarely left home; when he did, it was only for a quiet drive. Nearing the end of his life, he had been giving all his time to retreat participants and close students, training those who would carry on after him.
Clearly this would be his last opportunity to address a wide Audience. A topic of the utmost seriousness was called for. What did he want his message to be? Would he speak on meditation? Some theme from world mysticism? Mahatma Gandhi?
He chose to talk about slowing down. And he chose to use most of the time simply to tell stories, slipping in his characteristic touches of practical wisdom almost as asides.
In retrospect, I don’t know why that should have been surprising. Wisdom has always been conveyed through stories. Stories are what we remember; they wrap ideals and values in images that stay with us all our lives. Great spiritual teachers Consistently teach first by story and parable; explanations are dry by comparison.
So this is a book of stories. Again and again, as we read, we find ourselves in a familiar situation where we generally get impatient or upset —— standing in line, waiting on hold, shop— ping with lively children who have agendas and timetables of their own. But as Easwaran relates each event, we see it through his eyes. From the perspective of an unhurried mind, familiar situations open up. We glimpse possibilities we had never suspected, little ways to change how we respond — and those little ways, as we act on them, quietly begin to transform our lives. An unhurried mind opens a door to discoveries in every moment. We don’t have to change the circumstances around us; we simply need a mind that is quiet, calm, and kind.
I warmly invite you to step aside from the hurry around us, take your time, and let this gifted teacher help you discover a doorway to joy and serenity where most of us never think to look: in the ordinary activities of our everyday lives.
Back of the Book
Life today can feel so fragmented! Often we face enormous pressures both on the work front and at home. Irritable and drained at the end of a long day, we wonder what it was all about. But if we look at our choices through Easwaran’s eyes, it’s surprising how quickly we begin to discover patience, peace and meaning. In Take Your Time, Easwaran shows us through his timeless stories that we could try something different next time we’re feeling stressed. We could use his techniques to:
-Slow down inwardly, even if we have a lot to do
-Stay calmer, more patient, more loving with all around us
-Improve concentration-do one thing at a time and do it well
-Keep our attention in the present so we don’t waste energy on worry and resentment.
-Simplify our lives and avoid trying to do too much
-Get a sense of life’s true purpose.
Step back, slow down, and find a doorway to joy and serenity where you might never have thought to look.
About the Author
Eknath Easwaran is respected around the world as one of the great spiritual teachers. He was Professor of English Literature at the University of Nagpur, India, and an established writer, when he came to the United States on the Fulbright exchange program in 1959. As Founder and Director of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation and the Nilgiri Press, he taught the classics of world mysticism and the practice of meditation from 1960 till his death in 1999.
|Foreword: The Gift of Time by Christine Easwaran||9|
|1||Take Your Time||19|
|3||One Thing at a Time||57|
|5||Living in Freedom||103|
|6||Time for Relationships||127|
|7||A Higher Image||153|
|8||The Still Center||171|
|Meditation & the Eight Point Program||191|