“And rise with me forever, across the silent sand. And the stars will be your eyes, and the wind will be my hands” (“Far From Any Road”). Sometimes it feels like we’re puppets at the mercy of wider forces and hypocrisy is the norm. Most people wonder on occasion whether or not they’re making the most of their time. If we had it to do it over, would we do it again? Should we be doing something different with our time?
We put pressure on ourselves to enjoy every minute as bucket lists items pile up. In the time it takes to read, “Right this second,” you might ask, “Am I wasting my time?” but herein is the question: What is time for?
Time can feel like a Sword of Damocles hanging above your head. Anybody who enjoys wealth, luxury and power lives under threat and anybody who has nothing envies those who have what they want. Gated communities imprison the pampered as poverty imprisons the poor. Questions about whether or not you’re making the most of your time happen when you’d rather be doing something else. In moments of boredom, irritation and/or annoyance, that’s when the present turns into the past like the end of a toilet paper roll running out fast.
As you watch a truck commercial you’ve seen a thousand times, scrub a stain that won’t come out or do anything you don’t like, you might wonder, “Am I missing something?”
Time is fleeting. It’s cliché. Time flows regardless of wanting. Is time ever really wasted? Soon you and everyone you know will be dead. You’ve seen old films. You know the score. We can’t help but do what we don’t like and all good times end. We’re between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
As the astronomer Arthur Eddington observed in 1927, there’s an asymmetry to time. We experience its flow in a one-way direction: forward, like an arrow. You can remember the past but not the future. You can turn an egg into an omelette, but you can’t turn an omelette into an egg. You can put cream in your coffee, but you can’t take it out.
Days pass like words in a sentence—here and gone, here and gone. You were a baby, now you look different. You’ll change again before you’re finished. You might want to hold time in a bottle and make days last forever like Jim Croce (1943-1973), but unless you’re an X-man, that’s probably not going to happen.
Our trouble is that we divide things into “either/or” opposites—nature~nurture, individual~collective, self~other—but that obscures the in-between dynamic of life. Truth is between. Fortunately our brains are capable of showing two contradictory and mutually exclusive behaviors at the same time (The Complementary Nature).
When time no longer feels like it’s on your side, when you’ve spent your day doing what you don’t like and your night vicariously living someone else’s fictional life, you might think of “Nights In White Satin” and the line, “Another day’s useless energy spent.”
When there’s a job that needs doin’, but you don’t do it: time is a wastin’. When you’d rather be doin’ somethin’ different: time is a wastin’. Like June and Johnny said, “A cake’s no good if you don’t mix the batter and bake it. And love’s just a bubble if you don’t take the trouble to make it” (“Time Is A Wastin'”).
You might think that you’re wasting the time you have, but that’s the thing about time. You don’t have it: It has you. You are time passing and “resistance is futile”.
You’re like a candle burning itself out. Time for you to lighten up. Remember what Mary Poppins said, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and, ‘Snap!’ The jobs a game. And every task you undertake becomes a piece of cake, a lark, a spree, it’s very clear to see” (“Just a Spoonful of Sugar”).
Suppose you’re angry. You think, “I’m angry!” You elaborate the feeling with stories of justification but the more you think in “stories,” the more distracted you are from the present. Saying “I” and “mine” started the process so if you watch the story you tell without identifying with “I” and “my,” you blow out the “story” and disturbing emotion like a candle.
Happy Birthday. You are free.
When you drop labeling things as “I” and “mine,” you feel the world directly. Disturbing emotions are empty of identify and so is everything else. Look at the one who feels. Look without distraction and anger turns to nothing. Nothing stands alone. Everything is taken together. You see the world through a window where what’s outside is seen through your own reflection. We divide between self and everything else but everything else is one seamless landscape.
In the Mind Of A Rampage Killer scientists talk about how the emotion centre of the brain (amygdala), “goes into overdrive when a threat is perceived.” If the threat isn’t real, higher level thinking (prefrontal cortex) sends “a message to the amygdala to calm down, but if the wiring is faulty, the message may not get through.” A boy who flies into rages says, “It’s kind of like a werewolf. When a werewolf turns into a werewolf, it doesn’t know who he is, it doesn’t know where he is, it just wants to hurt and fight people.”
To enjoy without needing anything, go into an equilibrium and watch. Watch the present with your senses. Watch the stories you tell yourself without identification and gain perfect understanding.
To be free of duress and drama, forget stories and assumptions and your mind will be empty of greed, anger and delusions of grandeur.
Whether or not you think you’re wasting time is subjective. As the Western fiction writer Louis L’amour said, “The only thing that never changes is that everything changes.” If you don’t believe it, look in the mirror.
Like George Costanza on Seinfeld said to Kramer, “What you call wasting, I call living. I’m living my life!”
What if getting the daily news really is enough?