Time. The thing with have so much of, yet so little. The finite substance of the infinite. We have attempted to master time for all of time itself, but what have we learned? We have managed to place it in a form that the masses can understand. We have produced a means to articulate and measure… but how is it best spent?
Ancient philosophies and philosophers have pondered on this question for some time. The management of our fleeting time here is a key component to our happiness, or is it? Let’s look into two philosophies that have had a thing or two to say on this subject, that we still cannot entirely fathom, and, perhaps, will never understand.
“Carpe Diem.” Seize the day – or its more accurate translation, pluck the day (as it is ripe) – was penned by the poet Horace. Although not directly linked with Stoicism, it is worth mentioning first for its importance and relation to the subject. To seize the day, what must we do? Must we awaken at a certain hour? Must we search for these opportunities to seize? Must we fight to create some relevance to each hour? No, to reach for such heights would be folly. To seize is to control, but I am afraid we have little of that. We don’t control how time passes, but we do control how we use it. We don’t control when opportunity arises, but we do have control of whether we pluck it from our fate. We often forget these two vital points, because in all the chaos of life, we forget that time is finite.
That’s where the Stoics enter with the idea of “Memento Mori,” – remember you must die.
Seneca wrote- “Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day…The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”
Morbid thoughts, at first, I know, but ones that we all should meditate on. With all you have done, could you happily leave this place tonight? With all you want to accomplish, could you exit this mortal world within the next hour? To have such a finite time here is empowering. If time were indeed infinite, how many opportunities would we let pass? How boring and mundane would the world become? How the beauty of life would begin to fade…
Death is an ideal to embrace, no matter what you believe comes after.
But, with all this focus on mortality, we must remember to be “living in accordance with nature,” a quote from Zeno, the founder of Stoicism. By nature, the Stoics are referring to the nature of what it is to be human. Let’s consider that for a moment – why is humanity in the position that it is? It’s simple, really:
- We can apply a great deal of logic to our instinct.
- We can use all of this brain mass to wield tools that save time.
- We are self-aware, able to understand the concept of time and highly adaptable to whatever may change with time.
So, to live in accordance with nature, in relation with the subject of time, we simply remember these points of our biology. Importantly, we are able to place logic upon our emotion, so therefore, we are able to live a life of virtue. If we’re angry, we can choose not to harm. If we’re hurt, we can choose not to retaliate. This is how we lessen the negative impact of our time here. This is our true nature, but unfortunately, it is this nature of us that many have forgotten.
And so, time is limited. Time is precious. We should grasp opportunity as it comes. We are able to understand and use our time to live in virtue. If we all considered these thoughts of the Stoics, how different would the world be?
Lao Tzu asked, “do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?” A clear quote on anger, but let’s consider its relevance with time. To wait is to use our time, and to wait for anger to subside, I think we can agree, is a virtuous use of our time. It takes, on average, ten seconds for our prefrontal cortex to begin to apply logic to our limbic system. The new brain fighting to quell that old instinct. Depending on your level of self-awareness and emotional intellect, after these ten seconds, anger, or any instinctive action, can quickly be defused. So, we should have that patience, because to wait could be the difference between causing harm or being kind, even in a situation where it might seem unjust. That small amount of time could prevent a negative impact on not only your life, but the life of another.
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” – Lao Tzu.
And in our use of time, we must remember not to rush. If we rush, we will miss everything that is beautiful about this world and being alive. If we hurry our journey, we will miss all of the scenery. If we speak quickly, people will not understand what we are saying. If we rush conversation, we will not learn anything. Life is not meant to be lived quickly. We take it day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. Everything will be accomplished, just don’t forget to enjoy every moment of the journey.
Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, penned, “if you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” The relevance of this quote in the modern age is unquestionable, with anxiety disorder and clinical depression being at an all-time high. In these brilliant words of Lao Tzu, we can find a conclusion to this question of time: how is it best spent? The answer, of course, is in the present. It is the here and now that matters. Close your eyes for a moment. Feel every sense and fibre of your being. Are you okay? As you inhale and exhale, remember that you breathe. Feel that heartbeat strongly in your chest. You are alive. You are here. You have all the time you need.
The Stoics and the followers of Taoism had interlocking ideals. If we align them, and find the truths in both their teachings, we can find a way to make time a less daunting idea. We must find time to process emotion. We must make time to live by our virtue. We must make space to be still. The present is all there needs to be, so find the time to be there, and only there.
Time is fleeting, yes, but perhaps the pace at which it moves is connected to how it is perceived. Perhaps our state of mind has a direct impact on the time that we have here. Does time not seem to still when we look into the eyes of the one we love? Does the world below us not seem to stop when we are above the clouds? Time is what we make of time, and all you need to do is use it well. Infinitely, with all you have, love and be kind. Be virtuous. Perhaps, if we follow the words of our ancient teachers, our time here won’t feel so finite.
Lee A. Vockins.