“Killing time”, that’s an interesting choice of words. When you’re bored, you have time to kill, you’re waiting for something better to happen. The way this phrase is worded, we tend to think “killing” is used as an action: we’re killing time, reducing the amount of time between now and some future event. But what if “killing” is really an adjective here? As in, this is the killing time, the time when we’re slowly killing ourselves by not being present in the moment. I know after I’ve been killing time, I sometimes feel like I’ve died a little, feeling listless and agitated at the same time.
We spend so much time chasing experiences, looking forward to some future time when things will be better, and killing time waiting for that future experience.
What kind of experiences do we want? I think a big part of what makes an experience fun is that it fully engages our attention. Think back to the last really awesome thing you did, you were probably fully engaged in the moment, experiencing it all, not thinking about anything else, not reminiscing on the past or worrying about the future.
In the words of Joseph Campbell: “I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that the life experiences we have on the purely physical plane will have resonances within to our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s all finally about.”
I love the way he says that, “…the rapture of being alive”. Yeah, I think that’s what we really want, to feel the rapture of being alive. This is similar to the concept of “peak experiences” discussed in the book Stealing Fire by Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler. That entire book is about different ways to chase peak experiences, different ways to feel the rapture of being alive.
Admittedly, some experiences are more likely to fully engage our attention, and that’s great. But if what we really want is to be fully engaged in the moment, what if we directly chased that, rather than chasing experiences that we hope will fully engage us? That’s what mindfulness is, trying to experience the rapture of every single moment.
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in chasing experiences that we spend most of our time rushing through all the other stuff we have to do in order to get to some future experience, killing time until we get to a better experience.
The essence of mindfulness is that our minds judge experiences to be good or bad. If we quiet the mind, if we stop the judgement, every experience, every moment can be a peak experience. If we stop thinking about what’s wrong with the present moment, or how it could be better, or how much better some future moment will be, then we can fully experience the moment we’re in.
At least that’s the theory of it, I know I frequently struggle with judging the moment I’m in, often assigning unpleasant judgements to it. I try to start small, try to capitalize on the benefit of a peak experience before and after it occurs. If I’m looking forward to some future event, I try to notice that I’m doing so, slow down, and pay more attention to what I’m doing. Not just rush through it trying to get to the next experience.
Similarly, after having an awesome experience, I try to bask in the afterglow, instead of trying to prolong the experience itself or immediately planning the next experience. Baby steps, you have to start somewhere. Instead of killing the time in between good experiences, I want to be living the time, fully living it.