Monday, January 6, 2014

How the Tyranny of Time Affects Us

We crossed the threshold into 2014 a few days ago. Now I’m left with a question: Did 2013 actually happen? I can barely remember it.

The transition from one year to the next is always a “non-event” for me. Yet I feel a sense of irritation each year when the glittering ball drops in Times Square and revelers there count down the last 10 seconds of the old year. The rasping sound of “Auld Lang Syne” that always follows grates on my nerves. It simply reminds me that the keeper of time has taken another year from us.

Frankly, time baffles me. What is it exactly? Is it real? Or is it just an illusion? 

I set out on a quest to understand time and how it affects us. I would like to share with you what I have learned...

What is time?

The first thing I learned is this: We can experience the passage of time. And we know it relates to the sequential occurrence of events in our lives. We know that one moment seems to follow another. But we don’t really know what time itself is.

We invented clocks to measure time, and we are constantly attentive to them. In fact, they have come to symbolize the tyranny that time holds over us. But in my home, the clocks all seem to be out of sync. None of them is set to the same time. So I usually turn to my cellphone to see what time it “really” is, because I know my cellphone service provider is “infallible.”

We may not know what time itself is. We may not even know what time of day it is. But we do know time dominates our lives. And we know that when it is gone, it really is gone. Unlike money or possessions, we can never replace it.

How does the passage of time makes us feel?

Instead of defining time, a more useful question may be: How does the passage of time affect us? How does it make us feel? Since we are eternal spiritual beings, why is time so important to us when we are here in the physical world?

Like most people, I have a strong sense of “time.” There never seems to be enough of it in which to do all of the things I want or need to do. I normally get up each morning and have my first cup of coffee. Then suddenly and inexplicably, it’s nighttime again and time to go back to bed, and I have no recollection of what I did all day. Where did the day go? And to make matters worse, the passage of time seems to be accelerating and my sense of urgency is growing with each passing year. The accelerating pace of time may be the biggest cause of stress in our lives.

My perception of time has changed throughout my life, and perhaps yours has, too. When I was a kid living first on a farm and then in a small town in central Pennsylvania, I seemed to have all the time in the world. I spent summer vacations reading science fiction books, stopping now and then to mow the grass and to talk with my best friend about saving the universe.

But eventually I grew up and became a “responsible” adult, and my perception of time began to change. Like most people, I became an economic slave and, of course, that meant I had to get to work on time. In my mid-40s, my sense of urgency escalated. Life seemed to be passing by, and I hadn’t yet achieved anything of lasting value. Now decades later, I’m in my 60s, and the passage of time continues to accelerate. I’m retired and don’t “go to work” anymore, but I am busier than ever before. I always have a long list of things to do, most of which never get done for lack of time. I often wonder what happened to the promise of “endless time” in retirement.

Today, we always have to rush. We always feel stressed. In fact, I think we are facing a “crisis in time” and it’s beginning to feel hopeless. Trying to hold onto time is like trying to hold onto a handful of water. The accelerating pace of time is killing us, and I don’t think we can sustain it indefinitely.

I used to think technology — along with fast food and interstate highways — would alleviate the accelerating pace of time. But that hasn’t been the case because everything else has been speeding up as well. Sometimes I long for the simpler life of my youth in the hills of Pennsylvania.

Have you ever seen the list of “A Hundred Things You Must Do Before You Die”? The list includes things such as riding in a hot air balloon, getting married, going to Mardi Gras, getting a tattoo, crossing the equator, visiting all 50 states, learning a foreign language, and skydiving. Give me a break! I’m already stressed enough without believing I ought to do any of those things.

And how about “time management.” Have you ever heard of that? Wikipedia describes it as the act or process of planning and exercising conscious control over the amount of time you spend on specific activities in order to increase your efficiency. I constantly make lists of “things to do,” but the term “time management” and the expectation that I should manage my time according to rules laid down by “experts” only adds to my feeling of stress.

I suspect it is the ego which creates our sense of not having enough time. The ego arbitrarily decides what we must do on any given day. As the day goes along, we soon discover that we won’t be able to get most of those things done. The ego constantly evaluates our progress, causing us enormous unhappiness.

What can we do?

The passage of time causes overwhelming stress in our lives, but is it real? Or is it just an illusion? And how can we cope with it? I will address these important questions in sequels to this blog post. ❖

An audio version of this blog post:

Related posts:
     Is Time Just an Illusion?
     How to Cope with the Tyranny of Time

1 comment:

  1. Time has always rushed until im outside in Nature. Then the world slows to a more heartbeat pace and i allow myself to exsist in that one moment