We may think we have learned to tell time, but actually we are allowing what we have made of time to tell us how to lead our lives. The next time someone asks you, "Do you have the time?" consider it a profoundly important question. Don't look at your wrist. Look into your heart and mind and wonder about the time of your life. Translate the question to "Are you paying attention to your life?"
To help you be more aware of the time issue in detoxifying your success, here are some "time stopping" (not time saving) suggestions related to each of the three components of your success detoxification program:
Try standing and staring. Just look out to nowhere in particular and gaze quietly. Try to "just be" rather than "being vigilant" and to be content just staring. Author William Henry Davies described the simple joy of staring when he wrote, "What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?"'
Find an egg timer or small hourglass that measures two or three minutes. Sit down, close your eyes, turn it over, and open your eyes when you think the sand has passed through the hourglass. If you are like many sufferers of toxic success, you will be peeking before the two minutes are up.
If you practice, however, you will eventually calm your brain down sufficiently so that you can enjoy "being late" when you open your eyes and not fear "wasting your time" by thinking things over a while as the sand passes. English scholar and poet A.E. Housman warned of our harebrained pace when he wrote, "Three minutes' thought would suffice to find this out, but thought is irksome and three minutes is a long time."
Take a few minutes to sit and hold hands with someone about whom you care. Don't talk about daily life problems or plan for the future.
Lie in bed and cuddle for a long time, or rock yourself or your child for what feels like a "nice" time, a comfortable and calm few meaningful moments.
Even in the sensual aspects of our life, we seem too rushed to connect. English poet and critic Stephen Spender pointed out the hurried nature of our intimate contacts by writing, "Americans are better at having a love affair that lasts ten minutes than any other people in the world."
Walking the Labyrinth of Life
To teach the importance of slowing our thought processes and the circular model of time, I often suggest an ancient practice that promotes the contemplative thought that is often lacking in the toxically successful: the lessons of the labyrinth.
The labyrinth is an ancient symbol that conveys the wholeness and interconnectedness of life. It combines the imagery of a circle and spiral formed into a meandering circular yet purposeful path. The walking of labyrinths has been used since ancient times as a method of teaching, meditation, and prayer. It can be one of the most powerful ways of experiencing a profound and intense investment of attention.
My wife and I walked the labyrinth at the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. It is a majestic building that seems to quiet the soul from the moment you enter. We commented after our walk that our experience seemed to elicit the feelings of contentment, calmness, and connection that characterize sweet success.
As we walked, we noticed that it was difficult at first to keep our balance. Something within us seemed to be hurrying us along in search of a straight and direct line to a final destination or goal, the same motivation that underlies toxic success. Labyrinth paths are narrow and winding. You have to give your full but calm attention to your movements, a kind of "effortless trying" through which you make progress by being unconcerned with proceeding.
Going with the Flow: A Secret of Sweet Success
I saw a little boy walking the labyrinth. He was smiling and humming as he moved, and he entered and left the labyrinth with much more ease and joy than the adults who were trying to "solve it" or move through it quickly. "You seem so good at it," said his mother. "How do you do it?" The boy answered, "Oh, I'm just messing around."
Therein lies a secret of sweet success. This wise child was playing, enjoying, and "going with the flow."
Unlike the hurried adults trying to succeed by getting quickly to the middle of the labyrinth, he was "just messing around" within it, having fun, and allowing it to guide him through.
Trying to rush along only makes the journey more difficult and less enjoyable than if you meander and stroll free of any time limit. To enjoy the labyrinth, you have to gracefully accept your wavering and teetering, but you soon become used to it and it feels comfortable.
If you rush yourself and focus on getting to the center as quickly as possible, the trip becomes almost impossible. If you calm down and try to forget about successfully "getting to the end" and instead focus your attention on enjoying the trip, you begin to meander along rhythmically as if you are being drawn into the center. If you are self-conscious and alert to how you appear to others or try, as some did, to do better than the rest, the labyrinth becomes a challenge instead of an opportunity, stressful rather than delightful.
A Peaceful Journey of Insight and Attention
Labyrinths are not mazes. Unless you "toxify" them by making them into a challenge to be met or problem to be solved, they offer a way to a peaceful journey of insight and blissful experience in getting your attention.
A maze is a puzzle to be solved and contains many confusing twists, turns, and dead ends. In contrast, a labyrinth has only one unicursal path for one point to move along, and the way in is the way out. The only choice to make is whether or not to enter, but once you do, trying hard does not work.
All the personal power in the world is of no use in a labyrinth. What is required is the calm, tortoise-like mind and the gentle grace of feeling that you are going to your center and back out again and accepting the constant flow of life rather than striving for a goal.
Reverend Steven Sturm, a friend of ours from the north shore of the island of Oahu, also walked the labyrinth at the cathedral. His description of his experience illustrates my point about the importance of being able to find a contented kind of success using the right keys to success.
"I really had trouble keeping my balance at first," he said. "You can't rush it -- you have to go with the flow. You have to calm down and willingly accept the various turns and returns and realize that, as in life, you are always progressing even if you feel temporarily lost. I experienced it as a metaphor for the journey to the center of my spirit and back out again to the world. You come to accept your shakiness and imbalance as natural, and when I reached the center, it was a holy experience."
All the personal striving in the world is of no use in a labyrinth. That approach will ultimately lead to confusion, frustration, lonely disorientation, disappointment, and a sense of empty victory even if you make it through the path.
How To Successfully Traverse a Labyrinth
To successfully traverse a labyrinth, you must not challenge the labyrinth but instead allow yourself to thrive your way through it and to become peacefully drawn in by the challenges it offers you. The path's twists and turns must become not puzzles or tests but invitations to grow and become enlightened.
Those who seem to have experienced the spiritual joy of traveling the labyrinth do not report success at completing a task. There is no cheering, celebration, or sense of relief. Instead, there is a gentle contentment, quiet calmness, and a profound feeling of being deeply connected and more awakened to something much more important and powerful than one's self.
Those who have been in the labyrinth the longest seem to exit the path with a smile on their face and tears in their eyes. There is no "high-fiving" or shouting. They usually find a quiet place to sit and reflect on their experience. Many pray. When asked about their experience, they say that somewhere along the path, they felt that they had become one with it and lost all sense of self, time, and place.
What Is Required?
What seems required to enjoy the labyrinth is also required to experience sweet success. What is needed is a calm tortoise-like mind, forgiving contentment with whatever turns and choices you make, and an openness to being connected with the path rather than trying to conquer it.
The reward is the gentle grace of feeling that you have been to your center and back out again. It is feeling that you have, for at least this moment in time, stopped fighting and gone flowing. Any success you feel will not be due to having strived and won but to having thrived and become more alive.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Inner Ocean Publishing, Inc.
©2002, 2004. www.innerocean.com
Toxic Success: How to Stop Striving and Start Thriving
by Paul Pearsall, Ph.D.
Dr. Pearsall directly challenges many of the self-help conventions, which he finds are not solutions but part of the problem. His detoxification program has helped many "toxic success" patients to sweeten it up by changing their mindset and taking back their attention, focusing on what they need, not what they want.
About the Author
Paul Pearsall, Ph.D., was a licensed clinical psychoneuroimmunologist, a specialist in the study of the healing mind. He held a Ph.D. in both clinical and educational psychology. Dr. Pearsall has published more than two hundred professional articles, written fifteen best-selling books, and has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Monte/ Williams Show, CNN, 20/20, Dateline, and Good Morning America. Dr. Pearsall was hospitalized for some tests, due to be discharged, became unresponsive and died of a spontaneous intracerebral hemorrhage July 13, 2007. Visit his website at www.paulpearsall.com.