In an attempt to convey my resentment of the tyrannical clock, I once wrote a poem about a woman who was imprisoned by her wristwatch.
For years, it seems, my life has been measured in rushed increments. A half-hour to get home from work; an hour to unload the dishwasher, prepare dinner and start a load of laundry; and then a few minutes to pay some bills after a quick glance at the mail.
Living under the pressure of time, I gained weight and exercised very little. With a perpetual sense of no time to lose, I had no time to lose—pounds, that is. Only after I retired did I take the time to shape up, dropping over 60 pounds in the process.
Even in retirement, I feel time is scarce. When I become engrossed in writing, a few minutes can morph into hours. Before long, the day is over. Where did the time go?
Because the minutes fly by, I make myself start each morning with an hour of playtime on my living-room floor. The routine is a collection of exercises from a yoga instructor, a physical therapist and gym classes. I also include exercises that I made up. When I begin, my mind bombards me with tasks to accomplish that day. To escape their oppression, I repeat the mantra “Work can wait. First things first.”
During the exercise routine, I pay attention to how my body feels. Some days I can do more, other days less. I extend my limbs and stretch my back. In the process, I’m reminded that body awareness was a given as a child—not something I sought out each day. I didn’t need to come to my senses; I lived in them.
I experience the same conflict when I quit work in the middle of the day to play tennis—play being the operative word. Never am I so carried back to my childhood days as when I am running around on the tennis court with my friends. I laugh when I succeed; I groan when I miss. I give my partner a high five when we make a great play. The game isn’t about winning—though I hate to lose—but about being outdoors, running around in the open air and playing with friends.
While my self-discipline is spotty, my appetite for play is strong enough to throw off the tyranny of time. I can count on myself to exercise regularly—not for health reasons but because it‘s fun. Maybe my heart appreciates the exercise. Maybe my lungs function better. Maybe I can move more easily. Maybe I have more energy. Maybe I reduce my risk of stroke. Maybe my waistline stays trimmer. These results are all wonderful outcomes—but they aren’t the reasons I get out and play.
I exercise because, for a few minutes every day, I want to forget I’m grown-up. I want to be lighthearted and escape the seriousness of everyday affairs. For an hour or so, I want to live only in the moment.
John Seivert, a physical therapist, gives his clients one rule to achieve fitness: Play regularly. He said we will know what our exercise is because doing it will elicit uncontrollable smiles, fits of laughter and childlike behavior. Before you know it, John assures us, we will become more fit than we ever dreamed possible, no matter what our age.
Nothing reveals our values more than how we allocate our time. For the joy of it, I’m going to continue to spend hours each week playing—whether I’m stretching on my living-room floor or running on the tennis court. These moments help me come to my senses. It is time well wasted.