From the time we are born to the time we die, our personal time is precious, because it is finite. And because it is finite and because the world marks time the way it does to run efficiently, and from which it is nigh on impossible to escape, we have a whole vocabulary whirling around it – a veritable maelstrom of time. We save time to do something special, then we waste it if we don’t enjoy it, we have time, we don’t have time, we make it, we spend it, we don’t spend enough, we use it, we find it, we lose it, time passes us by, we wish it away when we are going through something unpleasant, perhaps thinking ‘this, too, will pass’, we wish we had more of it, and sometimes when we’re plagued by boredom we wish we had less of it. In childhood our time stretches out in front of us waiting to be explored, when we’re older it contracts, and people look forward to the time when they can retire after working all their lives, when they can then enjoy the fruits of their labour, and that’s if they are lucky enough to get that far. Time pecks on our shoulders all through our lives, we’re late, we’re early, it drives us on. We think of the future, we think of the past. And in the knowledge that we are going to die one day, we try hard to make ourselves feel that our time on this earth will have been well spent, that we will not have wasted our life – our life is our precious time.
I hate ticking clocks. Their resonating beat penetrates quiet and injects tension, they monitor your time. The first time I was aware of a ticking clock was probably at my grandmother’s, in her parlour room, where only special visitors went. It felt a little like being in a 1940s museum with its collectables, framed pictures and family portraits, its velvet curtains, chenille throws, its tiled fireplace with immaculate companion set, the room all spotless and smelling of polish, and with – yes, you guessed it – a loud ticking clock right in the middle of the mantelpiece. A loud ticking clock ticking away time, ticking away your life. Some people find this sound relaxing, and I have tried to understand this. Perhaps if you have nothing better to do, you may recline in an armchair and succumb to the hypnotic beat and be induced into a relaxing doze. But most of us do have better things to do, and we beat a swift retreat from such timely reminders as ticking clocks in our midst announcing to our subconscious – ‘Time marches on’ and ‘Time and tide wait for no man’. We have our life to live, no ticking clocks for us, and yet we all know ‘the clock is ticking’ – that’s ironically precisely why we have to get on with our lives. And we all know that it’s not that simple. We make plans and goals, and these are frequently time-bound and we are subject to outside influences getting in our way. And all the time, we have to get on with it, get it done. It’s urgent now, we’ve wasted enough time, or we’ve spent enough time preparing, now is the time for it!
And talking about perceptions of time, on my local radio station, the DJ is always verbalising where we are in the week, no doubt for the benefit of the listeners who work from Monday to Friday, but also for his own sake, where he sees the majority of people suffering the same way he does. He hates Mondays, tolerates Tuesdays, then when Wednesday comes, time shifts and turns on some kind of axis, so that he can begin looking forward to the weekend – he assumes the weekend means freedom for most. Are these weekends when the nine to fivers get to live, then? I certainly can’t live like this, and creative people, I suspect, can’t either, because when we are immersed in our work, time becomes largely irrelevant. We couldn’t care less what day of the week it is or what the date happens to be. Perhaps that is when we get to escape, at least for a while.
In a similar vein the commercial world is always stalking onwards to the next seasonal event – it’s Xmas time, it’s Valentines, it’s Mothers day, it’s Fathers day coming up, it’s Easter on the horizon, it’s Halloween….the list is long, with the products for sale in the shops weeks before, to remind us that that time is coming up. Then we have special celebration anniversaries to mark, or tragic anniversaries to pay homage to, both personal, national (and there seem to be more and more of them), and international. All these events pace out the time of a year, month by month. So where are we with all this? Do we welcome this kind of structure in our lives or do we feel driven too much by it? Do we wish we could throw away time and have some peace?
Do we wish time could stand still? And no wonder mindfulness has being introduced as good practice –it’s practically becoming a necessary survival skill.
A perhaps more constructive take on time is from spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle in his book, The Power of Now. He points out that we have chronological clock time, which we all understand, which serves us for the practical aspects of living. But there is another kind of time we subject ourselves to – psychological time. If we dwell on past injustices, if we rue over our past, with regrets, or guilt, or sorrows, if we have obsessive drives for arriving somewhere, attaining something, or ‘making it’, if we are ruled by old thoughts and patterns of behaviour that certainly don’t serve our well being, then we are being held hostage by psychological time. He argues that all negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present, our fears and worries are caused by too much future and not enough presence. He advises that all we have really is this moment, right now – ‘the quality of your consciousness at this moment is what shapes the future’…’There is no salvation in time. You cannot be free in the future. Presence is the key to freedom, so you can only be free now.’
And he has another take on ‘this, too, shall pass’ in A New Earth. Yes, be reassured that a bad experience will pass you by at some future point. But this also means that a good experience will end. He argues ‘once you see the transience of all things, and the inevitability of change, you can enjoy the pleasures of the world while they last, without the fear of loss or anxiety about the future’ and that the detachment you gain from seeing this means you can view the events in your life from a higher vantage point instead of being trapped inside them. So it’s all about perspective, something to bear in mind when we’re struggling with our time issues.
So, presence in the now is the key to freedom and a maintaining of perspective, and yes, it’s hard to put into practice in ‘the real world’ , but we can do just that – practice. And we can choose how to spend our time, and make the most of every moment, for ourselves and for others who we happen to be with. We can choose to spend our time doing what gives us personal fulfilment or meaning.
Well, this is a meaty topic, and there is so much more to say. I guess time is on my mind right now, as I’m wanting to publish my novel this year and January always feels like a ‘must sort it out’ time for me. And some people keep asking me when it’s going to happen. My close friends don’t ask (thank you!), it’s more the acquaintances. And to be honest, there’s some pressure there. I’m sure I won’t be alone with this one! I’ll have to write a post on whether to tell people you’re writing a novel or not – the pros and cons (especially for the first one!)
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a lovely bit of writing on time from the anonymous writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. I’m not particularly religious but this poem is just beautiful and I’m sure some of you will recognise it. It dates from c.450–180 BCE.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
(All images courtesy of pixabay)