Thursday, December 29, 2022

Here, Now and Later: Different Views and Perspectives on Experiencing and Living Time

A colored and giant human hamster wheel
It’s that time of the year again and what better time to talk about time than right around this time. In fact, time is our greatest commodity and no matter how much and how hard we try and how strongly we try to deny or accept it, it is indeed a limited and non-renewable resource. We can extend it by taking good care of ourselves, physically, mentally, emotionally, etc. but with all our collective science, wisdom, and knowledge, we cannot escape death – at least not yet.

And yet, we often pretend that time does not matter, shrug it off or procrastinate when it comes to our own relationship with it. We assume that time is money (which it is not), whereas, like money, we often squander it on things that don’t really matter when we ought to seize and squeeze each day and see and deem it as a precious gift.

What would be our best approach to time? Is it useful and beneficial to see it as a finite resource and try to do and cram as much as we can within the limited time span that we are given, i.e., living each day as if it were our last, or should we just relax and take it in stride and not worry too much about it?

Interestingly, I was planning to have two separate podcast interviews on each of those views and wished to probe and explore them further. I was scheduled to speak with Oliver Burkeman, author of Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals and to follow it up with Lisa Broderick and her book All the Time in the World: Learn to Control your Experience of Time to Live a Life without Limitations.

As it may become apparent from the book titles, the first one is rather reductionist and focuses on the limits and constraints of time and pushes us to make the best out of the approximate 4000 weeks that an average life span affords us, whereas the latter has a more expansive view of time viewing it as a string of eternal moments and glimpses of infinity that we can learn to control and play with.

Although we had scheduled interviews, neither of them showed up for reasons unknown. As they did not take the opportunity to explain their own views - either because they had too little or too much time on their hands - I will present my own thoughts to you to the best of my knowledge and understanding; that said, I will encourage both authors to schedule a meeting with me to set things and matters straight, if need be, or just to confirm and reaffirm my theories.

The reason I wanted to have them back-to-back was that we could all see and evaluate the benefits and potential limitations of each view when considered and viewed side by side. In fact, and grosso modo, Oliver’s view of time can be deemed materialistic; we have one lifetime that we need to make the most of and that is pretty much that. I would have liked to probe deeper into his philosophical outlook and views, but I would not be too surprised if it had an atheistic bent to it.

As time is deemed limited and non-renewable, this can fill one with anxiety, existentialist despair, and potential dread. Every choice in daily life would be undertaken under a microscope to ensure that it is not wasteful and that it is indeed providing the maximum amount of benefit and/or happiness to the given individual.

And yet, there will also be the nagging doubt, the voice of unreason, questioning, consciously or subconsciously, each choice of ours and putting it under a magnifying glass. In fact, there may always be another better choice out there than the one we have made, and this is the proverbial FOMO (fear of missing out) that drives us toward not enjoying the present moment as we are constantly aware of our mortality alongside a certain perceived but unspoken futility and aimlessness to our time-constrained existence.

Incidentally, Oliver may have canceled our speaking engagement because he had another and, in his view, more productive and more promising event on his agenda, or it may have been due to his underlying fear that I may probe him further in his views and beyond his comfort zone, and hence exposing and bringing into the open what he would rather have concealed and kept unaware of his own consciousness; of course, there may also be a completely unrelated and different reason whatsoever at play.

On the other hand, the second one, Lisa’s view is quite spiritual in nature. Time is not fixed; it is flexible and can be moved and shaped through and according to our experiences and outlook. We are not just talking Einstein’s relativity here; the book also freely quotes and references results and findings in quantum theory to show how time is not merely linear ticking away in seconds and minutes. This outlook has a spiritual base and does not see our life as limited in space and time but rather as an expression, if not manifestation, of another (or other) dimension.

I myself am leaning toward seeing time not as fixed and limited. That does not mean nor imply that we should not seize each and every moment, but the way and manner Oliver is presenting our relationship with time, it looks and feels like it is mostly driven by fear, anxiety, panic, and despair. It is like a death sentence that is looming in the far away or close distance and it hangs above our heads and all our decisions like the imaginary sword of Damocles.

Furthermore, it is treating time as an accessory one has, and it is not unlike running a business, or at the very least, it has a business-tinged outlook. Whereas the CEO fills up his or her schedule with supposedly relevant and worthwhile meetings and trips, we would take that approach and try to fill as many gaps as possible and try so hard to avoid boredom and wasting time that we might just end up losing our grip on the little time that we have and end up running around when we should be relaxing and taking it all in and in a stride.

In Lisa’s perspective what we get is a combination of metaphysics and quantum physics, including quantum uncertainty and entanglement and a particular perception, distortion, and manifestation of time with a spiritual nod, understanding, and acknowledgment of our existence in spacetime. In the same way, time is relative, our frame of mind and perspective decide and determine if an event is long or short, fun, or boring, and this can be adjusted and changed if we become aware of the process, an observer effect of sorts. Instead of seeing a task as dreaded or dreadful, a shift in mindset and perspective could make the same task interesting or challenging in its rather positive and curious sense of the word.

But if like most of us, you always feel that you are rushed and busy and that time is always lacking, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You would always be on the run and on the go and would rarely find or have the time to do what is truly best and beneficial for your body, mind, and spirit.

It often comes down to how our brain processes information and the current state and frame of mind. We spend most of our waking time in the beta brainwave mode where we are constantly on alert and ready to deal with stress and challenges, and only once in a while, do we give ourselves the time (!) and luxury to delve into, dwell and settle in the more relaxed alpha brainwave.

Yet the ideal state, according to Lisa, is focused perception, a trance-like quasi-mystical state of mind with gamma brainwaves, which is a combination of various brainwaves in which your mind is alert, but your body is relaxed. We often designate the words and expressions “in the zone” and “flow” to this state that is razor-sharp and free from worry or panic. Athletes are familiar with this, but we also experience it when we are deeply focused on a task that fully absorbs and engages us. Often this turns out to be what we love to do in the first place; however, we are not just purely taking time off, daydreaming, and relaxing but are fully grounded in and aware of the present here and now.

In fact, Lisa provides different exercises and practices to increase our awareness of time and augment our mindful engagement with and within the present. Any moment considered under the lens of mindfulness can last a very long time, and it does then seem that time lasts longer and flows more slowly; if it passes more quickly, it did so because we enjoyed our time.

Although we have all the time in the world to enjoy the present moment, it is important to note that our time is limited at the same time. It is however true that time is not linear (although we may perceive it as such) but that it can be stretched, manipulated, and yes, for a lack of a better word, transcended.

At the same time, it is not unlimited within our given lifetime, so both perspectives (and either perspective on its own) are equally right and wrong; the main thing is to enjoy life and seize the moment and not just let it pass by, while also not fretting or worrying too much about losing out or failing to fill every minute of the approximate four thousand weeks allotted to us. If you find ways of living in the zone or add bouts of mindfulness and higher awareness to your daily existence, you must be on the right path.