Lately I have been thinking a lot about time.
Time, and our concept of time, is not a fixed state. It is not a given fact. Time is dependant on how it is perceived. Time is constructed. And yet, we are completely, hopelessly, utterly bound by it.
Time is probably the thing that I struggle with the most. The thing that constantly gives me the most anxiety. I worry mainly about running out of time. Of not having enough time. Of not having enough hours in the day to get what I need done, done. Or fear of getting older and not making the most of my perceived ‘youth’ or not having achieved a certain degree of perceived ‘success’ by a certain age. I feel guilty for wasting time. For wasting this precious commodity that has been granted to us.
Yet, we are the only creatures on earth who worry about this. I don’t believe any other animal has such concerns about the time. About feeling like they haven’t been productive enough or worrying they’ve wasted the day as they play or hunt or nurture their young. It is only human beings, who are trapped in the prison of time.
It sounds unthinkable that our perceptions or concepts of time could be bent or changed - after all, the current constructs we live in dictate our entire lives within modern society. Everything is timetabled and scheduled. But this too, has been created.
In ancient aztec times, the Aztecs followed a completely different approach to time. Whilst we view time as linear, Aztecs viewed time as cyclical. Many other societies throughout history have viewed time in a similar fashion. The Balinese would follow a ‘ritual’ calendar and a ‘lunar calendar’, and viewed their lives as if in a ‘timeless present’ - which to me, sounds really liberating.
Even in recent times, indigenous cultures which have been forced into western society and driven off their lands have described how the white man imposed Time on them. Before this, they would simply live with the seasons and what the land provided, with no concern of what day of the week it was.
Even the speed of time is essentially constructed. Anyone who has taken mind-altering substances can attest to how time can slow down or speed up. Or even anyone who has worked in a mind-numbing job will have experienced how slow time can seem to pass.
Essentially, time is a construct. It’s in our minds and is deeply embedded within the collective consciousness based on the societal constructs which have been created and which we all live within. I am aware of this, and the idea of a cyclical time makes sense to me. I have had moments in my life where I have glimpsed this ‘timeless present’, where I have felt so at peace and connected with the world.
Yet despite this awareness, I still seem to worry more than most about time. I still feel trapped by time. And I still give in to the pressure created based on time that I must have achieved a certain amount by x age. I still worry I’ve wasted a day when I sit around doing nothing. I still go to parties or festivals or on holidays and feel like I need to ensure I make the most of my time there, which kind of detracts from the whole point of simply living in the moment.
What can be done about it? How do we escape the trappings of time?
We can’t be expected to completely subvert how we conceptualise time. After all, this is the world we live in, and whilst I believe we can make it a better place, we cannot restructure the entire way that not only our society works, but also the way we have trained our minds to work over the last few hundred or thousand years. But we must find a way to escape the constant dread that time creates - a dread that has made us fear ageing, fear a perceived lack of accomplishment, and fear death. It’s a fear that many corporations have tapped into and perpetuated - whether it is beauty companies selling us anti-aging cream, or the companies we work for creating more and more targets, job titles, and endless steps on the corporate ladder, so we feel we are constantly working towards something greater, whilst simultaneously creating more pressure for ourselves.
This is not about simply about doing ‘what we want, when we want’ or having a lack of routine, either. In fact routine is shown to be extremely beneficial for both our bodies and our mental health. We have always had a routine - working with the seasons is a routine. It is just a routine that is dictated more by nature, and less by hours and minutes on a clock. We still need to rest and recuperate. We still need to utilise night time to sleep and day time to be active. We still need to have summer as a time for socialising and winter as a time for solace. In fact, despite our best efforts, we probably have less routine now that we do live in a linear sense of time, as we burn the candle at both ends, desperate to make the most of every single moment, before the moment we fear the most. - the moment of death - arrives.
I believe the answer as to what we do about this problem partially lies in reconnecting with nature - our original provider of all we needed to know about the seasons. The moon, the sun, the stars, the weather, the tides. We’ve disconnected from nature and have become reliant on numbers, and have given ourselves crippling anxiety and worry in the process.
I also think we need to constantly, CONSTANTLY remind ourselves that our notions of time, and our notions of ageing and what needs to be achieved, have been created. We need to check ourselves and hold ourselves responsible when we find ourselves falling into the trap of thinking we aren’t good enough because of our lack of achievements. For beating ourselves up for not owning a home or being married or getting promoted by the time we’re 30, or whatever goal and age it is that we have come to believe the ideal. It is so hard to break out of these patterns because they are deeply embedded. But we must. Our happiness depends on it. When we get caught in these traps how do we feel? Do we feel happy? Or do we feel anxious and worried?
Even if we do achieve our goals, there will be another one around the corner. There will be another thing to concern ourselves with. There will be another pressure from our work or our families. I believe we are entering an age where more and more people are waking up to the fact that this stuff isn’t what is really important in life. As the threats of ecological crisis loom, we are realising that it doesn’t matter what we’ve achieved or not. It doesn’t matter how old we are. It doesn’t matter. What matters is how well we live and how well we love. What matters is the connections we make, the stands we take, and the way we express ourselves and our emotions. What matters is how we nurture ourselves and our world.
Tomorrow cannot be guaranteed, because there is no tomorrow. Tomorrow does not exist. All that exists is now. This present moment.
I leave you with this quote, from the writer Mitch Albom:
“Try to imagine a life without timekeeping. You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie. Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays. an alone measures time. Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralysing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out.”