“Time is the soul of this world.” –Pythagoras
Our relationship with time is perplexing. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Time passes quickly when you’re having fun,” — but we’ve also heard and felt how “the day dragged on” or how something “took forever.” One of my favorites is, “The days are long, but the years are short,” which is something every parent can relate to. (Let’s be honest: when you have a fussy toddler, even an hour at a restaurant can feel like an eternity!) Yet, flash forward… and when we see that same child in her cap and gown at graduation, we wonder where all the time has gone.
So how do we make the most of our (relatively brief) time on Earth and seek that eternal aspect of time the Kabbalists describe?
The first step is to realize that time may be objective as a human construct (as measured by our watches or calendars or train schedules), but it’s also a highly subjective facet of consciousness. In that sense, it is eternal. As the Rav wrote, “…yesterday, today and tomorrow is one.” All of time is connected; in a sense, every moment holds the power of every other moment that ever was or will be.
French philosopher Henri Bergson expressed a similar idea in his writings on la durée, or “duration.” He used the example of music. Each note in a song is connected to every other, just as the present and future are infused with the past. Bergson believed that by consciously viewing the wholeness of our experience (what he called lived time), rather than focusing on the smaller segments, we can better understand the endless thread that connects all.
And the only way into that eternal stream of time is through the present moment! We enter it when we bring the fullness of ourselves to anything. In Eastern thought, this is known as a “Zen” state. When we’re involved in something we love, or with someone we love, time seems to disappear. We can also access this eternal aspect of time through memory. Recently, Michael and I reflected on one of our favorite pictures: a photo of us dancing at our wedding. Within the frame, Michael’s father, the Rav, is standing nearby, smiling. His face, and the entire scene, radiates pure joy. Although the Rav has been gone from this Earth for nearly a decade, in theory, he is still there smiling, laughing, clapping, and dancing. By connecting with that joy, we, too, return there to him, and to the music and festivities and to all the people we love who were there. We transcend memory and reconnect with what we perceive as the past when we realize that all of time is accessible in the same way that the ocean can be entered from every shore.
Once, while traveling on the long flight to Israel and feeling restless, I put on a certain song that I love to run to, and I closed my eyes and envisioned myself running. The minute the song started, I could actually feel my body change. I started to sweat as though I were running! While still sitting in that airplane seat, I had connected to time both consciously and physically–and there I was, running where the legroom was plentiful, and the scenery didn’t include the snoring woman in the next seat!
That’s not to say that this construct we call “time” isn’t useful in creating order in society. And in that sense, we’re all given the same 1440 minutes every day with which to do as we please. Ashley Whillans, author of the book Time Smart, offers a more worldly look at the challenges we face around time. She describes the difference between time affluence and time poverty and encourages us all to strive for the former. Her studies have shown how those who value time more than money or acquisitions tend to be happier (hence “time affluence”). “Time poverty” happens when our actions lack real meaning to us and when we allow distractions to take over. She references what Brigid Schulte calls “time confetti”–or the scattering of attention that results from being pulled in too many directions.
We all know this drill: God forbid we don’t check our emails 100 times a day! And then we HAVE to return that call, reply to that text, check our social media, and read those CNN headlines. We miss the present moment and, in a spiritual sense, all the lasting blessings that can come from it. Because if our mind isn’t there, neither are we. We may think we’re brilliantly multitasking by chatting with a friend the entire time while pushing our toddler through the park, but where’s the connection?
There are so many moments wherein we can choose to grow, connect, and share our light. And those moments, whether cherished or missed, quickly add up to hours, days, and years. Meanwhile, children grow, we do as well, and loved ones pass from this world…
So this week, ask yourself:
How am I spending my time? And (most importantly) am I being fully present in ways that are purposeful and meaningful to me and to those around me? Am I taking advantage of the gift of this moment?
The Zohar likens our lives to the flame of an oil lamp. We take for granted that the flame is burning. But in reality, at every instant, a new drop of oil is consumed and then replaced by a new drop. Likewise, no matter what any of us has done, even if it was something terrible just a second ago, there is in every moment a new Light. A new chance. A new choice. Essentially, a new you.
In the recent time-travel movie The Adam Project, Mark Ruffalo’s character invokes a Roman proverb when he says,”Enjoy yourself; it’s later than you think.”
Because while eternity may be forever, the chance to make our impression on it is fleeting. And so, who we decide to be right NOW in meeting this singular, miraculous moment is all that will ever truly matter.