You’ve heard the story of the professor who demonstrated the Jar of Life to his students?
He was lecturing on the concept of time management … and placed a big glass jar on the desk in front of him. Next, he pulled out a box of rocks about the size of tennis balls. He placed each rock in the jar one by one until he couldn’t add any more.
“Is the jar full?” he asked.
“Yes!” replied the students.
The professor paused for a moment to respond “Really?”
He reached into the desk and pulled out a bag full of pebbles. Carefully, the professor poured the pebbles in and shook the jar, allowing the pebbles to slip through the larger stones, until they settled in the nooks and crannies. Again, the professor lifted his gaze to his class and asked, “Is the jar full now?”
At this point, the students began to understand his intentions. One replied, “Not even close!”
“You are correct!” exclaimed the professor.
Now he pulled out a bag of sand. Carefully, he poured the sand into the jar. As the sand filled up the spaces between the rocks and the pebbled, he shook the jar and banged it on the desk to settle the sand.
Once again, the professor asked, “Is this jar full?”
Without hesitation, the entire class of students screamed “NO!”
“You are correct!” replied the professor once again.
In anticipation, the students leaned forward to see what he could add next. The professor reached for something else to fill the big glass jar. He picked up a pitcher and poured water into the jar until it was absolutely full. The professor now lifted his gaze to the class and asked, “What great life lesson can we learn from this experiment?”
One student said “As our days get busier, if we look for more time, we can find it.”
“No”, replied the professor.
If we don’t put all the larger stones in the jar first, we will never be able to fit all of them later.
The auditorium fell silent, as every student processed the significance of the professor’s words in their entirety.
The professor continued, “What are the large stones in your life? Love? Family and friends? Health? Your aspirations? Following your dreams? Dedicating your time to a worthy cause?”
What we must remember is that it is important to make room for the larger rocks. If we don’t, we may miss out on them altogether. If our priorities are stuck in the smaller things in life – pebbles and sand – our lives fill up with the mundane moments of existing. These are less important things that leave us no time for more important things.
But remember … those big moments start with a second … a grain of sand.
That second you decided to follow a path to your career.
You make a decision to join a club and meet the love of your life.
My mothering instinct kicked in immediately at the point of conception.
Those little seconds completely change the trajectories of our lives … for better or for worse. They can have a profound impact. And feel like they are far beyond our control.
If you have ever survived an emergency situation, you most likely are familiar with the phenomenon of time slowing down.
“I saw the car’s windshield shattering into a million prisms. Spray – like water – glinting in the sun. I felt like I was floating in the air in slow motion … when in fact I had just been ejected from a car that was broadsided by a truck. I remember the beautiful clouds, I could make out each piece of gravel by the side of the rode. I didn’t want to land at the bottom of the ditch.”
The time-slowing-down trick is explained as a psychological survival aid … increasing our chances of getting out alive by giving us more time to respond.
It could also be that our brain is literally bombarded by millions of incoming stimuli in those split seconds … perceptions, details, noise, visions. That jolt of crunching massive amounts of information in an abrupted moment … gives the sensation that time is ticking in slow motion.
Does that mean that a life fully lived is longer?
One summer when I was twelve years old, we had travelled from Montreal to visit my aunt in Mississauga. Aunt Nellie had prepared a guest room for us, but hadn’t had time to rehang the curtains. I still recall the room. If you walked into the door on the left, there was a window on the right. The beautiful walnut bed was pushed up against the wall in between the door and the window. It had a sunny yellow quilt on top. The curtains were green – my Aunt Nellie had the quirkiest sense of fashion that I have ever seen – and the mod chair to the south of the window was a scratchy blueish purple weave. Beside the chair, and near the closet, was a wooden cedar chest.
My Mom stood on the arm of a chair to help her hang them up.
Time slowed right down as I realized the arm of the chair was breaking off. I remember assessing the objects in the room and where my Mom would land … and what she might hit her head on. The bed was too far to break her fall. The cedar chest could kill her. All of this information processed through my brain in a split second.
So I put my arms out and caught her. She fell into my arms like a baby, breaking her fall. All of us stood there – stunned – as I held my Mom in my arms.
There is no doubt I saved her from a serious injury.
What stayed with me from that incident … what how my brain kicked in seconds before the accident. I knew something was about to happen.
Have you felt that feeling that space and time contracts before an event? When you enter that state of hypervigilance seconds prior to impact?
Hesitating for a second before going through an intersection … because your brain picks up on clues you’re not consciously acknowledging. Unconsciously sensing the fact that the car coming in from the left isn’t slowing down and is about to blow through the intersection at high speed.
It could be something as mundane as losing your keys. Your mind – for a mere second – stops and acknowledges that something will occur, but it skitters around the edge of the thought, not fully forming it. Foreshadowing? Self-fulfilling prophecy? Intuition? Grand design?
I have tried to teach myself to stop and examine those seconds. They usually lead to a big moment.
I can recall the exact instant I became a mother. My body knew I had conceived.
I can remember my eyes being pulled to look in a certain direction seconds before witnessing a horrific motorcycle accident.
I knew my mother was falling before she fell. I braced my legs to prepare.
My body knew it had cancer before conscious *I* did.
What moments define you? Not the big event, but the moment in time where your life happened upon the course that got you there. Are you alive today because you stopped at the corner store before work, thus avoiding a train derailment? Or … in agony because you stepped off the ladder and fell. Life altered in an instant. Did you miss your connecting flight and find the man or woman of your dreams?
I have wondered at the connected energy of space and time in Night & Day.
Pay attention to those seconds … Especially if they suspend themselves ever so briefly in time.
“Each second is a universe of time.” – Henry Miller