Whenever you contemplate life at any level there is probably nothing more mysterious than TIME. You can’t capture it, stop it, save it or lose it. Time is not a thing, it’s not an ‘it’! Yet we think, speak and act as if it’s a commodity, a resource, a ‘something’ that can be accumulated, saved and spent. Three illusions of time virtually run our personal worlds – time will ‘run out’; we can ‘save’ time if we hurry; and if we wait there will be ‘more’ time…later!
Some days we probably look at a clock face more often than other people’s faces. We will talk of being ‘pushed for time’ then, a few breathless moments later, we are rushing to ‘meet a deadline’ while confessing that we don’t know where we will ‘find the time’. But time is not found. It is created.
Time is a perception. More precisely time is your ‘perception’ of the space between events or your ‘perception’ of the space in which an event begins and ends. We are the creators of time because we are the creators of our perceptions. The awareness of the passing of time is a natural, personal ‘insperience’. Just as a canvas holds a painting so time is the canvas upon which we will paint the journey of our life.
So why do so many of us create a frantic time driven lifestyle? How do some of us (you know who you are!) seem to become slaves to time? Why did we start to mistakenly believe time runs out, time can be saved and there will be more time tomorrow? It all started way back when!
Once upon a time, sometime in the past, there was a young and brilliant carpenter. One day he built the most exquisite box. On the box he painted the most beautiful face and two perfect hands. That night, at around midnight, he went into the forest, high in the mountains, and he whispered to TIME saying, “If you enter this box I can promise that you will control almost all human beings on this earth”. After a moments hesitation TIME replied, “Are you sure?” To which the carpenter replied, “Absolutely certain. They will think they are controlling you, but it will be you that controls them. That’s a guarantee”. And so TIME accepted his offer and entered the box. The young carpenter returned down the mountain to his home and placed the box in the middle of high shelf so that all could see its face. And he called that box a clock! It would not be long before the clock was mistaken for TIME itself and everyone would look to the face of the clock to guide their life.
Every time we think about time we tend to look at some form of clock somewhere. We organize our life around periods of ‘clock time’ and synchronize our movements according to the positions of the little hand and the big hand! We don’t realize we look and refer only to a machine. We are unaware we are creating a false concept of time. Clock time is not real time. It is simply our way of attempting to quantitatively ‘measure’ our perception of the space between events or the space in which an event happens. We invent seconds, minutes and hours as our units of measure. Being ‘time conscious’ is, for most of us, being ‘clock conscious’. But it’s a mistake. We invented and created the clock as one of our first machines. Today many of us are slaves to our own creation.
So what is ‘Real Time’?
Events in the world ‘out there’ are stimulations that register in the world ‘in here’ i.e. within your consciousness. Any stimulation, if repeated for pleasure, will eventually become addictive. As any drug addict will testify, when stimulation becomes addictive more stimulation is gradually required to deliver the same effect.
The primary addiction almost all of us share is the stimulation of our consciousness ‘in here’ by events in the world ‘out there’. Those events might include other people, movies, work achievements, family, the information and images delivered by our ‘personal gizmos’ and many other things! It’s different for different people. Gradually many, if not most of us, will try to ‘up the dose’ of event stimulation. Hence a growing desire for a ‘faster’ way of life and our collective preoccupation with speed. We become addicted to speediness, which is just an addiction to the stimulation of more and more events. Speeding up our life is essentially closing the space between events by consuming more ‘event stimulations’.
Our relationship with technology is a classic example. When your computer ‘hangs’ notice what happens to your teeth as you grrrrr! for a few moments! You create the feeling of irritation or frustration, perhaps even anger, if it happens frequently. You are frustrated because you are not getting your fix of ‘event stimulation’ that you’ve come to expect and depend on from the machine through the screen. If the new model of phone or laptop is not quicker, slicker and able to supply you with more events, faster than its predecessor, it is deemed to be a backward step and not worth the money!
The Grammar of Life
Now this is where it gets ‘interesting’. Just as punctuation marks are a natural characteristic of a good sentence, so too events are like the punctuation marks in the long unending sentence that is your lifetime. Punctuation in the right place within a sentence allows the sentence to become meaningful. It’s in the space between the punctuation of life’s events that we ‘ascribe/create’ meaning. It’s not the actual event that gives you the deepest meaning. It’s in the space between the events in which you ‘create the time’ to ‘ascribe’ meaningfulness.
It’s in that space/time that we consider, explore, understand, savour and thereby create our own ‘personal meaningfulness’. This happens through a process of reflection and contemplation. The created meaningfulness that arises, which includes many subtle feelings, then informs our decision-making processes as to how and where we will use our attention and energy in what we call the future.
But, and here is the big but, if we are addicted to the stimulation of events themselves and we are always looking to increase the speed and frequency of events (i.e. trying to cram more events into our consciousness) then we are reducing the space between events where we do our meaning creation. We also reduce our capacity to ‘see significance’ during the events themselves. We are just busy with the thrill of the event itself. It all results in the tendency to race across the surfaces of life, find less and less depth to our life, which then diminishes our sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in life.
It’s as if we need to create ‘the time’, which in consciousness is the same as ‘the inner space’, to consider, reflect and contemplate, in order to create meaning and therefore a meaningful life. That’s why the exact meaning that you create of any event will always be unique to you. Otherwise we would all be clones.
In essence, it’s not life’s events that give you meaning it’s what you do with those events within your consciousness, during and between the events, that generates meaningfulness. The more addicted to the stimulation of events you become the less ‘inner space’ you have to ‘make meaning’ in your life. It’s as if you are trying to make your sentences out of just the punctuation marks, which would of course make a sentence meaningless!
This is reflected in the collective superficialisation of so many areas of life that we see today. Hence the loss of depth in so many areas of modern society. Hence the absence of meaningfulness in many peoples lives, perhaps most especially, the young! They have arrived and grow up in an already ‘event accelerated’ world. Hence the explosion in the number of people with some degree of ADD – attention deficit disorder – which shows up as an inability to sit quietly, reflect, contemplate, create and extract the ‘juice of meaningfulness’ from what has happened and is happening, and then use that juice to make future decisions about how we will create and live our life.
Consciousness, time and meaningfulness are all inextricably linked.
Types of Time
There are four kinds of time. Nature’s time, clock time, psychological time and spiritual time. Nature’s time is defined by the natural movement and changing of the seasons. A relentless cyclical process that is neither fast nor slow. It just is, has always been and will likely forever be. Aligning with the rhythm of the cycles of the natural world is therapeutic for a human being. The act of slowing the activity within our consciousness in order to give our attention to fully see and be with the world ‘out there’ cultivates a deeper awareness of our own inner world.
Lie on a grassy bank on a summer evening and stare up at the night sky and it’s almost impossible not allow your consciousness, which is you, to move into a silent, profound, unlimited spaciousness. In such moments our life feels very different. It can be humbling and yet exhilarating at almost the same ‘time’. But it’s something we tend to do less and less as more of us become increasingly obsessed with our relationship to our slick and sophisticated machines and all that they ‘do’ for us.
In some parts of the world there is food famine. In other parts of the world there seems to be a ‘time famine’. People actually believe there is a shortage of time. You can tell when people have trapped themselves in a mindset defined by the belief they are ‘time starved’ when they keep saying, “I don’t have enough time… or…I have too much to do….or ….I’m just too busy right now”. While no one has ever died due to a shortage of time some may have killed themselves with the anxiety they create due to the belief that there isn’t going to be enough…time! In such moments they have disconnected from natures rhythms. There are in ‘clock time’ and living a clock driven life. They are therefore likely to be addicted to ‘event stimulation’.
Going with the Flow
‘Time famine’ tends to be a frequent perception in the lifestyle of people in so-called ‘developed’ countries where ‘speed’ is worshipped as a modern God. That’s probably why by far the most popular workshop/course/seminar in those countries is… yes, you guessed, Time Management! But few realize that time management is an oxymoron. Time is not a commodity like money or rice that can be managed. Although we may speak about the ‘flow of time’, unlike a river it cannot be blocked, drained or diverted. It’s only when you realize you are the creator of time and that it has its origins in your perceptions that you become aware of your capacity to shrink or stretch time.
‘Time pressure’ comes when we decide there is too much to do in an allotted amount of clock time. So we generate anxiety (fear). As soon as we admit and accept that all the things we want to do cannot be done in the allocated clock time our perception changes and the pressure (anxiety) is gone. But that’s not easy in an accelerated world of deadlines and preplanned process timelines, where you can never fully anticipate the uncontrollable, the unexpected and the unavoidable along the way.
Often the mistake of living by the clock is compounded by our ‘learned neediness’. It’s when you make your self-esteem dependent on getting the job done by a certain ‘clock time’ or when your neediness makes you want the approval of others by meeting the ‘clock time deadline’ – it’s your dependence and neediness that generates your ‘feelings’ of time pressure. As soon as you show any fear of loss of job or loss of approval to those who give you any deadline driven task, that’s when ‘they’ start to use that to motivate you. You then become an adrenaline addict as you create and use the fear of failure and loss to motivate your self.
Do you ever leave anything until the last clock minute? Do you do things quickly to please others? Then you are likely to be an adrenaline addict. Some so-called ‘professional people’ use this powerful self-manufactured drug during their entire life. Then they wonder why relaxation was so hard and happiness so elusive!
Clock time is what we use to measure or estimate our experience of the space between here and there. It is how we quantify our experience of the perceptual gap between then and now and …then! In reality you cannot measure or manage time itself because it does not exist in any ‘form’ that can be managed or measured. Time has no independent existence, as most philosophers through ages tried to tell us. Everything that we perceive happening ‘in time’ is happening in our consciousness. Which means time is consciousness. Which means you truly are a ‘time lord’!
This makes sense when you notice that we each see and sense time passing differently. We all know people for whom time seems to pass oh so slowly. They are serene and deliberate, do one thing at a time, and just seem, well, slow and unhurried about everything. Others are speedy, always rushing, always speaking and doing everything fast, trying to do too many things at once to such an extent we wonder what they are on!
They both live in the same outer world but time is passing differently in their inner world, in their psychological universe. Both are creating their ‘time’ differently. This is why time is our personal creation. Confirmed by the simple fact that when you make your self ‘unconscious’ every night when you go to bed, time completely disappears!
Time and Space Management!
This is also why time management is really self-management in the deepest and truest sense. Most time management seminars should really be renamed “How to be more organized and efficient”. They are more about how to create and handle events efficiently in the clock driven world ‘out there’.
Managing ‘real time’ would then be about how you create your personal sense of time within your own consciousness. That’s where you may apply a simple formula. If you want to ‘stretch time’ then think less. Why? Because thoughts are the events you create within your own consciousness. The more you think the faster time will seem to pass. Time will seem to shrink! Think less and become more aware of the space between your thoughts (your inner events) and you will get the sense of time slowing down and expanding. Insperienced meditators have known this for several thousand years.
Hence the efficacy of practices such as meditation and contemplation, in which you slow thoughts down, thus creating more space between thoughts. It’s in this space that we see more clearly (without thinking about what we are seeing!) and feel more deeply (before thinking about what we feel!). What do we feel? A profound sense of meaningfulness, of significance, of completeness, of serene contentment, of quiet joyfulness, of unbounded acceptance and appreciation for everyone and everything. It’s different for different people. It depends how deeply you enter your own inner space. But these are some of the ingredients that make up the very juice of life itself.
But it seems more of us now find it harder to create and taste this juice as we become distracted and addicted to the stimulation of outer events and our relationships (which are just more events) in the world. There does seem to be some juice in such events/relationships that come from ‘outside in’ but they bring little ‘nourishment’ if we use them just for personal stimulation.
And finally to spiritual time! Take a moment to imagine you have gone beyond the awareness of all outer events …for a few clock minutes! Including the sounds of the ticking clock! Imagine you were able to stay in the inner space between thoughts and feelings, between memories and all subconscious impulses. You are now living in the inner space between inner events. In such an inner state there would be no perception of events or change or even of any space between events. In such moments you have consciously stopped creating time. You would, in such a moment, be aware of your own timelessness.
But the moment you started to think about it, you wouldn’t!
That’s why spiritual time, in the purest sense, isn’t!
Some call it the ‘awareness of your own eternity’!
But that’s another seminar!
Question: Why do you think so many people find it so difficult to understand and manage their time?
Reflection: Time is life and life is time and we each have a ‘life of time’. But are YOU using the time of your life or do you let someone else use it? If so, how and who and why?
Action: Take at least 10 minutes each day for the next month and just stare out the window and become aware of your own spaciousness!
Written by our professor Mike George