What the Fijians can teach us about mindfulness.
Do you ever feel like you are running just to keep up?
Most of us do. The media constantly reminds us of how busy we are, how little free time we have, how hard we work and the need for a work-life balance. Surprisingly though according to Positive Psychologist Dr Boniwell, we underestimate the amount of free time we have by half.
Time is our most valuable nonrenewable resource. We all know it ticks away. My friend recently got a tattoo of an hour glass with all the sand escaping through grasping hands to symbolise the precious nature of time. This got me thinking about my experience of aptly known Fiji Time.
I went to Fiji with my dad for a work conference recently. The whole thing was scheduled to the tee with workshops, lectures and activities for the guests. I too had my own rigid schedule and agenda. The plan, to see everything. I had activities scheduled in the mornings, afternoons and evenings. Mid way through our stay, we had some ‘down time’ between lunch and our afternoon activity. I decided we could cram in a ferry trip to the nearby island – which according to the hotel, would take an hour.
We stood at the pickup point on the beach in front of the hotel. Waiting there was a quiet, casually dressed, unassuming Fijian man with his groceries. Supposing he was a frequent ferry goer, our conversation went something like this…
Us: The next ferry should be 20 past, right?
Him: Sorry, I don’t know.
Us: What time is the next one then? (excited tourist move).
Him: Whenever it gets here (calmly smiling).
Huh? We got talking to the man. He was happy, peaceful and genuine. As it turned out, with a little probing, he managed over 1000 contracted employees that worked in the resort. His biggest question of us, was what was our constant preoccupation with time? He was obviously an intelligent, hardworking and successful man, but time to him was inconsequential. To him our relationship with time was all wrong.
A tinnie arrived with a man aboard. He was a friendly Fijian man delighted at the beautiful weather we had to enjoy on this precious day. He was filled with an infectious joy, was welcoming, sincere and calm. His number one concern, was that we were enjoying the magnificence of Fiji for its culture, people and natural abundance. As we got off the boat, our conversation went a bit like this…
Us: What time are we heading back?
Ferry driver: I’ll let you know. Whenever we’ve soaked in what the island has to give, we’ll return. What time is it anyway?
What time is it?! I caught myself feeling shock and almost insulted by the complete disregard for time (as I was perceiving it). How can someone whose work relies on following a time schedule not know the time? The beach we had arrived on was breathtaking, there was a tiny stall filled with coconuts to sip on and beaming ushers. It was incredible, but for a second I was caught up in my schedule, the looming time deadline to return for jet skiing. I was stuck in the future, missing what was right in front of me.
Walking up the beach, tourists from an earlier voyage were panicking as to when they’d return to the main island. When’s the last ferry? Have we missed it? The ferry driver upon noticing their distress said jokingly we can stay until tomorrow, we’re on Fiji time, enjoy! He turned and winked at us letting us know the nice man we had been speaking to earlier, our fellow passenger, was in fact the owner of this island! Wow this place was full of surprises, the quiet man with a daggy old t-shirt owned this! He’d left that out.
The ferry driver then anchored the boat and went for a swim. I stood confused for a while. The ferry was on time, as it turned out we left on time, and I clearly had a different perception and relationship to time than that of which I had just witnessed from our Fijian hosts. To me time was a stressor, to our hosts it was a gift.
Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as paying attention to the present moment on purpose and non-judgmentally. It is tuning in to what’s around you in a conscious and purposeful way. Mindlessness would be the opposite, running on autopilot, acting unconsciously, habitually and without your awareness. Whilst this is efficient for our bodies to utilise the shortcuts our brains have created, sometimes a little mindfulness can help. Have you ever sat down to eat dinner or snacked on a packet of chips in front of the TV and suddenly your entire meal has somehow vanished? I have.
Mindfulness can stop us overeating in front of the TV, which by the way is where Boniwell suggests most of our unaccounted for free time ends up. By training our bodies to be more mindful, you will be more likely to see opportunities to help others and yourself appreciate how precious life is, by seeing more clearly what is right in front of you.
At work, mindful time managers are aware of their procrastination and are aware when they are over-committed or if they lose focus. They know the importance of fun or down time and have a strong ability to redirect attention to their most important priorities when needed. A mindful approach to time allows you to manage time, rather than let time manage you.
How can we put mindfulness into practise? Start by monitoring how much time you spend mindlessly in front of the TV, scrolling through social media or blankly staring at work emails with no intention to act upon them in your down time. You might be rudely surprised.
As John Lennon said, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’. Be mindful of your time and the present moment. So often we feel as though we are running just to keep up, but we have up to double the amount of free time we preconceive available to us, if we can just be open and aware of the present moment.
Fiji time is a perfect example of present moment thinking, their time is the now. Appreciate it. Savour it. Relish it. Live. Time is precious, don’t live your life on autopilot. Be present in the beauty of now.
By Alex Hardy