📿What a Waste of Time

Lodro Rinzler
7 min readApr 22, 2024

What does it mean for our time to be well spent?

This piece originally appeared on Lodro’s Substack: The Laundry

The other week Adreanna won an item at an online auction. She drove an hour to Vermont to pick it up. When she got there, the place was locked. The person she was supposed to meet had gotten the date wrong and couldn’t come by. So she turned around, driving the hour back without the item in hand.

Upon hearing this news I thought, “What an unfortunate waste of time.” And yet, the very next day, Adreanna sat down and wrote a beautiful piece for The Laundry, attributing her work to the time spent alone to sit and muse on the topic during the long car ride.

This got me thinking about how I spend my time. When the two of us are not actively working, we swap the baby back and forth, not allowing for much down time outside of those two activities. There is a pair of pants folded on my dresser right now with its top button having popped off. While getting dressed this morning I thought, “Maybe this is the weekend when I find the time to sew the button back on” and then felt a little sad that this was my weekend activity. Yet, that is where my time management is at.

When I’m not with the baby, I sometimes feel like I need to maximize my efficiency so as to get as much done within whatever spare hours I have (he says, typing away for 15 minutes between meeting with meditation students).

At the same time, I wouldn’t say I’m busy. Back when I lived in New York City I would run into a friend on the street and I would ask how they are doing.

“Busy,” they would say, as if that was an emotional state.

“Same,” I would reply.

We would wear our busyness like badges of success; we were doing so much all the time, building things we felt were meaningful, and so it was okay if our shoulders were up to our ears all day long due to stress. If I’m being honest, I thrived in that state; I’m a highly efficient individual. But it didn’t bring me happiness.

I still do a lot of things: I run an online community called The Basic Goodness Collective, I teach intro meditation classes, advanced Buddhist studies classes, a six month long Buddhist Immersion, a mindfulness teacher training, meet with one on one students, write for you all here at The Laundry and more.

However, when someone asks me how I’m doing…I’m good. Relaxed, even. I’m less attached to being busy all the time. I am more willing to let go of all the things that “need” to get done and instead relax into whatever is happening right now: the baby asking to play with me, the cat butting his head against my arm for cuddles or the friend coming by for a spontaneous coffee. While there is still a lot of activity, the way I hold my mind in relation to it has changed. I can relax in the midst of the storm, rather than create mental busyness.

Sometimes I forget that for someone who hasn’t experienced it very much, meditation can look like a waste of time. You’re just sitting there.

Society has propagated a particular view: don’t just sit there, do something. And yet meditation says exactly the opposite: don’t just do something, sit there.

Meaning: don’t just rush through your life mindlessly. That is the true waste of time — living a life you’re not even present for. Instead, we might sit in meditation and learn presence so that when you are out in the world you’re actually showing up for and enjoying your life.

There was a time when I was single in my twenties when I would wander my neighborhood of the East Village at 3:00 AM. This was a time when most people had gone home from the ubiquitous bars that populate the neighborhood and local businesses had yet to open for the morning so, by New York City standards, it was relatively quiet. I would admire the architecture and the graffiti and process my day. I would, by conventional standards, waste valuable time that I could have been sleeping.

And yet? I look back on those late-night wanderings with such fondness that I wonder if they were some of the best parts of that time in my life.

Similarly, we are at a point where we are about to transition our daughter from napping on top of me for a few hours a day to taking those naps on her own in her crib. While I am sure I’ll get a lot more done as a result, I suspect I’ll miss those hours of a snoozing baby trapping me in one place. This is a daily period during which I can meditate, or think about what I would write if I wrote a comic book, or read. In some sense, by virtue of not doing anything efficient during those hours each day I suppose I am wasting time. Yet they are the period within which the most creativity happens, as well as some of the most joy.

I realize that part of that joy is the level of simple connection that comes when we are wasting time together. Long nights joking about nothing at a bar with friends. 18 hour plane rides where me and a travel companion would alternate being playful and cranky depending on how cramped we felt. Hours spent lounging on a beach with a loved one. At the end of my life I suspect that I will look back and realize that the best moments of my life were the ones where I was wasting time.

So why do we resist wasting time?

Anyone who has meditated for a bit comes to a pretty profound realization: this moment is okay. In other words, I don’t need to exit this moment to the past or the future in order to find happiness or contentment; I can experience it when I rest in this moment as it is. Simply resting here and now is not a waste of time. The “work” then appears to be developing confidence in that same ability to rest in the present moment and find enjoyment in the other waking hours of the day, so that we reframe wasting time as time well spent, simply because we’re present for it.

There was a moment before cell phones stole our attention span when people would get on the New York City subway and read the newspaper or a book or, barring that, waste time by just sitting there. I was new to NYC and had one of those experiences which only happen when you’re still new to the city and willing to make yourself available and open to the world around you. I was standing on the F train, holding onto a pole.

Next to me was a seated stranger. I noticed her because she was striking. Every aspect of herself was perfectly manicured: her nails, her hair, her eyebrows, her clothes, all of it. Every detail had been tended to. Not wanting to stare, I looked down. I noticed on her foot what I imagine to be a cat scratch, a fresh wound, an imperfection in an otherwise perfectly curated look. In that moment, she recognized where my gaze had fallen and she moved her foot over it so as to hide this one flaw. I looked up at her and our gaze met for a moment and we both broke out laughing. 15 years later I still remember this moment of connection. What a waste of time.

This piece originally appeared on Lodro’s Substack: The Laundry. For more of his recent writing, check out The Laundry today.

Lodro Rinzler is the award-winning author of 7 books including The Buddha Walks into a Bar and Take Back Your Mind: Buddhist Advice for Anxious Times. He has taught meditation for 20 years in the Buddhist tradition, is the co-founder of MNDFL meditation studios and travels frequently for his books, having spoken across the world at conferences, universities, and businesses as diverse as Google, Harvard University and the White House. Named one of 50 Innovators Shaping the Future of Wellness by SONIMA, Rinzler’s work has been featured in The New York Times,The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, FOX, CBS, and NBC. He lives in upstate New York with his wife Adreanna, daughter Ruby, and a menagerie of small animals. lodrorinzler.com

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Lodro Rinzler

Lodro Rinzler is author of “The Buddha Walks into a Bar,” “Love Hurts” and a handful of other fun books on meditation | Co-Founder of MNDFL. lodrorinzler.com