On Trying Not to Take Time for Granted
Tripping out on the ever-present progression of events
Inspired by Rob Hardy, I'll be publishing daily for 100 days on Substack. Here’s day one…
I'm trying to observe time's passing. I am sitting talking to someone, the light filtering through the trees and landing on his face. I focus on the moment, saturating it with my consciousness. But it slips through my awareness as if I were clenching a fistful of water. A new moment arrives. I feel pulled to fill the lull in conversation. I lose my position of observing time and am swept up into it once more.
Here’s an animation of how time feels to me—one moment passing into another into another, all named Now:
Time is a river and we're floating down it, pulled by future’s gravity. If we keep following the flow of moments, we arrive at our deaths. Not that we have any choice.
But I’m not coming from this curiosity about time from an existential crisis. It just seems odd to me that we seem to take time for granted. We never talk about how weird it is that seemingly just a moment ago we were graduating college, or stuck in class watching the clock tick waiting for recess. Pop songs crow on about love and lust, only a few commenting on time’s strangeness: “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’… into the future.”
The first time I tripped out on time, I was sitting on a piano bench impatient to visit my grandmother. But I knew that my visit would soon be gone in a blink of an eye, and I would again be sitting on this piano bench. How strange it was to be impatient for something that would soon be but a memory.
I think my anxiety about time is coming not from a fear of death, but an inkling that there’s something really important here that I ought to pay attention to. Noticing how quickly time passes, how entirely ungraspable it is, I feel I ought to treat each moment with care and presence. Seneca advises:
"Everyone hurries his life on and suffers from a yearning for the future and a weariness of the present. But he who bestows all of his time on his own needs, who plans out every day as if it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the morrow."
I know people who can confidently say that they have spent enough of their days as they have wished, and would feel at peace if they were to die. I think this is the goal: to feel that, even though time is fleeting, we are spending our moments in a way that is true to ourselves and our values, and we are present enough in those moments that we feel satisfied.
Stay tuned for part two on how we can influence our perception of time.
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