Learning to Linger
By Ken Saxon
A few years ago, I had a revelation. Every time you bump into someone at a meeting or on the street, and you start chatting, someone has to initiate the end of that unplanned conversation. Of course that has to be the case, because otherwise, you’d still be there talking with them right now!
What I realized, with a bit of discomfort, was that 90% of the the time, I am that initiator of the end of the conversation. “Great to see you, but I’ve got a meeting to get to.” “Sorry, but I’ve got to go.” I always have a clock ticking in the back of my head – what’s next on my schedule, when do I need to be there, being on time. I am schedule-driven, have a compulsion towards punctuality, and take pride in my productivity.
My newfound “discomfort” was in how this ending of conversations is received by others. I wondered – do people feel dismissed by me when I do this? Do they feel less than valued? Do they conclude that I think others are more important than them? They can’t be thinking that I’m being fully present with them, because, frankly, I’m not — not fully. I also wondered why am I so often the initiator? Don’t other people have calendars and aren’t they on their way someplace? Am I just so self-important?
Then I went on sabbatical for four months. I had no schedule. When I was doing something, I had nothing to do next, and no place I needed to go. What a different existence that was for me! I had no other appointments, no email, no social media, no work — just a lot of time to follow my nose and to be present to whatever was in front of me.
After a few weeks, my state of being had slowed down quite a bit, and I noticed some things had fundamentally shifted in me. And one change was that the clock, always ticking in the background of my consciousness, had disappeared. During my sabbatical time, I achieved new records in lingering — several 2+ hour lunches, a 3 1/2 hour breakfast, and a 4 1/2 hour dinner. And in almost every case, it was others who brought the gathering to a close, not me.
As I reflect on the learning here, my discovery is that my clock focus and calendar compulsion is not part of who I am as a human being. Instead, it’s my response to the conditions I’ve created in my life. When I changed the conditions of my life, those things fell away. They were no longer needed.
New awarenesses like this are powerful, for they redefine the person you think you are. When one goes from saying “this is who I am” to “this is how I behave in response to the choices I’ve made and the context I’ve chosen to live and work in,” one creates the power to choose. You are the programmer of your life. If I want something different in my life, I am empowered to change the program.
So, what will I do with this new knowledge that under the right conditions, I can linger and drift and relax and just be — and be quite content doing it? My next challenge is to figure out how to integrate the new awarenesses gleaned during my sabbatical into my ongoing life. As I hold these questions, I feel lucky to be part of an authentic and supportive community like ours – one that time and again holds space that helps me manifest my deepest intentions in the world.