Finding the Time

On a not-so typical run, I saw this poster just telling me to stop and listen to the world around me.

So I did.

I took out my headphones, paused the Nike running app and listened to the world. I just listened to my breath, the cars going by, felt the evening sun, looked at the green trees, and lived in the present, just for a minute or so. Then, I put in my headphones back on and continued my run.

But the flyer stayed with me. The next day as I got on the bus, I noticed myself putting on my headphones, and staring at my phone for the ride. I couldn’t help but think of my little brother glaring if I brought my phone to the dinner table. I received an unlimited amount of sass and sarcasm from him anytime I took out my phone out.

From my brother’s nagging, I don’t check my phone at meals. I engage in the family’s conversation, and I stay in the Present. The Duke-life equivalent would be saying hi to friends on the bus, or simply noticing the eccentricities of Duke Squirrels. The Present is the moment I am living in, who I am living it with, and where I am living it.

It’s easy to stay in the Present at home, or in my case, on the quiet Duke campus over the summer. “Nothing” is happening. However, during the school year, everything is happening. It’s checking my emailing eagerly waiting for my professor to respond to a question. It’s finding the time to read my favorite news sites and blogs. It’s texting my best friend at Syracuse that “Oh my gosh, the cute guy and I talked!” Or maybe it’s just listening to Pandora’s Top Hits as I walk across campus trying to find the time to breathe. In each instance, I leave the Present. Whether it’s living five minutes in the future while anticipating a response, or hundreds of miles away at Syracuse. I’m not in the Present.

But how important is the Present as a Duke student? I’m preparing myself to become a global citizen, does it really matter if I forget to notice the sunset and instead study? In this technological, non-stop world, who has time for the Present?

Amazingly, I had the time for the Present this summer. No schoolwork, no work, and just a Sunday afternoon on West Campus. The quad was empty, beautiful, and serene. It was the Present.

Even more amazing, the world had kept spinning even as I was standing still.

As I stopped on that Sunday afternoon or saw those “Pause, Listen, Respond” signs, I realized everyone and everything kept running past me. It didn’t matter that I had stopped, life had kept moving just as fast. What I realized from stopping was just how fast I was running to keep up, and how tired I was.

I was so desperate to keep up with life that I was running myself into the ground. My phone can alleviate the stress of trying to keep up. I can make calls to maintain relationships, or download apps with automatic news updates. Or I might even put in my headphones and listen to “Shake It Off” to recover from an evil midterm. But if I use my phone too much, passively scrolling through my Newsfeed or Twitter feed, it is the equivalent of running while staring at my phone, and I will fall on my face.

So maybe, Duke, we need a bit of my little brother glaring and sassing us as we stare at our phones. To have a reminder to look up, see the beautiful sunset and remember that no matter how many midterms we had today, the sun rose and set. All it takes is fifteen seconds to inhale, exhale and look up.

It might not seem that important in our life plans at Harvard Med, on the Hill or on Wall Street, but we are not living there and then. Our lives are the bizarreness of the Duke Squirrels, the beauty of a Durham sunset, or simply laughing with our friends on the bus. Those don’t happen on a phone screen. So after we all crawl out of our midterms-study cave, maybe it’s time to take a breath, realize life will go on, and to just enjoy life in the Present.