Stress is a perverted relationship to time

Stress is a perverted relationship to time

I’m so fucking tired. Our six month old started teething this week, which means we’re back on the newborn sleeping schedule. Lisa and I alternate “night duty” which involves rocking a frustrated baby back to sleep between the hours of 2 and 4 am. And my 38 year old body does not recover like it used to.

My frustration turned to rage the other night. My rocking felt more like shaking. I was paralyzed about what I should do during those two hours. Listen to a podcast? Music? Prepare the newsletter? Meditate? Staring into my little cherub’s eyes was emphatically not an option. And then I lost it. She screamed in discomfort as I put her down in crib, took out my AirPods and was about to launch them across the room (side note: what a sad way to rage) and stormed around the apartment angry and agitated.

I then remembered the words from one of my late teachers John O’Donohue:

Stress is a perverted relationship to time.

I have a complicated relationship with time. It probably originates from the reductionist statement “Time is money.” This corrosive aphorism acts as a silent governor of many of my deepest thoughts. (Especially when as an entrepreneur you’re confronting financial insecurity on a daily basis).

I see this aphorism at play around me all the time. There was the VC partner who paid someone to teach his kid how to bike. Or the person (ahem) who walks 5 blocks to find a no-fee ATM, but doesn’t balk at a $12 cocktail. Meet commodity theory: “when any resource is perceived as scarce, it is also perceived as valuable (think of water in the desert).” So as the value of our time goes up, so do the anxiety-inducing feelings of time scarcity.

To recap: if you’re not making money, it’s stressful. If you are, it’s also stressful. For you finance geeks, classic negative convexity. For everyone else, #FirstWorldProblems.

So back to the teething cherub. Clearly she was suffering (in the Buddhist sense, agitated and anxious), in ways that I undoubtedly can’t comprehend. I was suffering because of my perverted relationship to time. And in my rage, I prioritized my suffering over hers.

I recently read this story by another of my teachers  about a mother on maternity leave. (And I fully acknowledge that dads go through the tiniest sliver of what a mom experiences.)

She had to wake several times in the middle of the night to feed her baby, even though she was back at work in a high-pressure environment. She felt exhausted and stressed out. Every time her baby screamed in the wee hours, she felt instantly irritated. Breast-feeding, she found herself counting down the minutes until she could get back to sleep. Then Liang started practicing mindful breathing while breast-feeding, and her experience shifted entirely. Instead of wishing the nursing session would just end, she instead began to consciously focus on her breath, noticing the sensations that arose in her body. This enabled her to deepen her connection with her baby. Liang felt happy and at peace, grateful for the opportunity to just be in the moment with her precious daughter. Back at work, she reported, she was still physically tired, but she no longer felt so worn out. She had a renewed enthusiasm for life.

Coincidentally, one of my dad friends sent me this abhorrent Facebook ad the other day. This ad preyed on our perverted relationship with time (and oh the irony to be reminded of this on Facebook, of all places!).

Instead of counting down those minutes when the going gets rough, what if we could find joy in those tiny, intense moments. Maybe then we’ll cure ourselves of our time scarcity affliction.

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