"Stealing" Time (Time Series Pt. 2)

By Minji

"...years of mindfulness had taught her that time is every living being’s most valuable resource. Knowing that, she couldn’t bear to “steal” a piece of time from anyone. Instead of worrying about any time she might waste by being early, she was thinking about how it would be stealing from another if she were late. Her policy is to aim to get anywhere at least ten minutes early, lest she without permission take sacred time away from another." 

As far as I can remember, I’ve constantly been trying to somehow “maximize” my time. Multi-tasking is a given whenever I can find the opportunity (maskitation being a main example). In my younger days, I’d try to sleep as little as possible in hopes of having more awake time (now skincare needs trump this!). I would also actively try to pack in my daily calendar so I would have no “wasted” time.

In particular, I hated being anywhere early since it meant idle waiting time. I would precisely time my movements to ensure I would never be a minute too early. Of course, with LA traffic and all, this resulted in typically being 5-10 minutes late. But for the longest while, I assumed this was an acceptable social “grace period” and if it meant maximizing the use of my most precious resource, aka time, it was worth it.

I no longer engage in this practice though. I now make it a point to be a few minutes early and try my best to never be late. It’s not because I don’t value time as much anymore. If anything, I appreciate time more as the days pass. I’d attribute the change to my expanded awareness of time.   

There were some gradual realizations along the way that prompted this change, but one critical event that changed it all. A few years ago, I had a dinner appointment with a senior attorney who I had asked to meet to brainstorm on community supporting efforts. With unpredictable LA rush hour traffic, per the usual, I was exactly eight minutes late. Definitely within the unspoken “grace period” and I had traveled to her so I didn’t really feel bad about it. I strolled into the restaurant, casually apologized for my tardiness, and sat down at the table. Then in an effort to make small talk, I asked her how she managed to be on time in this crazy traffic. She looked at me and simply said, “I’m never late.” 

If she didn’t have the kindest eyes as she was saying this, I might have thought it was a passive aggressive move. However, she looked so nice and wise, I probed more and our small talk elevated into deep conversation. Turned out, this woman I was meeting to discuss legal mentoring opportunities, was an ordained Buddhist monk (lawyering on the side!). She told me that years of mindfulness had taught her that time is every living being’s most valuable resource. Knowing that, she couldn’t bear to “steal” a piece of time from anyone. Instead of worrying about any time she might waste by being early, she was thinking about how it would be stealing from another if she were late. Her policy is to aim to get anywhere at least ten minutes early, lest she without permission take sacred time away from another. 

This hit me like a stack of bricks. I had never viewed tardiness as “stealing” before but it made sense! Ever since, I’ve changed my strategy and my relationship with time. I now expand my awareness and attempt to think of time as not just a precious resource for myself, but for the universe. As I would never steal money or material goods from anyone else, I am careful to not steal time from others either. Of course, I’m still not perfect but changing my view of time in this way has been quite profound.  These days I also aim to be a few minutes early and make sure to have a good read with me in case I actually am early so there’s no time wasted nor stolen.  As explored in our first article of this "time" series, the relationship we have with time is complex. 

Last time I was late to a lunch appointment, as I ran in apologizing profusely, I had the pleasant surprise of my friends telling me they were actually happy to see me late. They’d often felt bad that I’m always the first one there waiting and were happy to return the favor. In this moment, I realized how much I’ve gained and not lost by no longer grasping selfishly for my time and instead efforting to never recklessly steal time from others.