… … we get to
think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain
number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you
remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply
a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it?
Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not
even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps
twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.
~ –Paul Bowles
None of us knows how much time we have in this life. That’s part of the beauty of being human—and the terror of it. If you knew you only had a few hours, weeks or even months to live, those hours would be worth more than if you knew you had several more decades. But we aren’t privy to that information. So where does that leave us?
It leaves us wanting.
There is a gift in not knowing. It keeps us in the thick of things, immersed in the day to day. If we were always looking over our shoulder for the grim reaper, we wouldn’t be fully engaged in living, but would be focused instead on avoiding death.
However, our sometimes arrogant assumption that we’re going to live forever, or a very long time, can lead us to waste precious time on things that simply aren’t worth our attention.
Our time is our currency. Once you spend it, you can’t get it back. It’s gone forever. Are you spending it wisely? Are you spending it doing something you hate or something you love? Are you giving your time to activities and relationships that feed your being? Or are you frittering it away on meaningless tasks and unfulfilling or even abusive relationships?
In the world of work, time takes on an even greater meaning. In order to support ourselves and our families, to keep a roof over our heads and pay our bills, most of us exchange our time for money. In light of the fact that you can’t get those hours back, are you getting compensated enough for that time? It can get a little uncomfortable looking at it that way. We are exchanging one currency for another. But think about the difference in the value of those two currencies. One represents our life and the other represents the legal tender that pays for goods and services. Not quite in the same continuum.
Our entire economy is based on our willingness to give up our life hours for sometimes 40, 50, 60 hours per week in exchange for whatever value our form of livelihood offers. If you are an unskilled laborer, the amount you receive for your life hours is significantly less than a doctor or lawyer. Does that mean your life is worth less? From an economic standpoint, it is. In the big picture, we know that it’s not.
Why do we agree to this devaluation of our time at all? The answer is so simple, it’s painful: Most of us don’t take the time to question it. We simply continue to do as we’ve always done.
Some of us are fortunate. We have an experience that jolts us out of our complacency —a near death experience, an illness, an accident, or job loss—something radical that shifts our perspective and typically our priorities, motivating and empowering us to do things differently.
Sometimes it happens more subtly. We meet someone who reminds us there is another way to be, or we wake up one day unable to tolerate selling our souls to a meaningless job for one more day.
Regardless of where we are in this process, what we want to remember is that each hour is a precious gift that, once spent, is gone forever; and how we spend it, with whom, doing what, is an extremely important decision.
As Carlos Castaneda learned from his teacher, Don Juan, we need to use death as an ally, so that we always remember to value ourselves, our time and ourselves.
How will you spend your time today?
*This post was previously published on my spiritual blog, Blessed Madness, which was online from 2006 - 2009.