Making a friend of time

By Mathias Maurer, February 2017

We mostly experience time as a constraint, an opponent whom we run up against each day: getting up, breakfast, to work, school or kindergarten, shopping, lunch, doctor’s appointment, treatment, hobby, evening meal, house work ...

Everything has to function like a clockwork and we become a cog in a time machine which dictates our diary. We have plans and rush forwards like the donkey following the proverbial carrot dangling in front of its nose which it never gets to eat. But the future we think about is not here and we deliberately ignore the present. The only result is stress in the long term.

It is quite a different matter when time turns into a rhythm. When time begins to breathe we experience its pulse, its flexibility: it stops, speeds up, comes to rest again.

Life is rhythm and there is nothing more “in keeping” with time than to avoid letting ourselves be constrained by it – other than just in the holidays when we think we have more time for everything, our relationships for example.

And yet our experience of time can vary so much: when we are in a state of great anticipation it can stretch almost to infinity and every second feels leaden. Or it rushes past, weeks seem like days, years like months. At the furthest reaches of the past or future this can become so extreme that we completely lose a sense of the present and thus paradoxically fall out of time. Time stands still.

The present is timeless. Yet to arrive in the present we have to make a friend of time, entrust ourselves to it. Our sense of the present is as fleeting – brain researchers speak of two to six seconds – as the awareness that we are standing upright when we take a step from A to B.

We do not obtain an experience of time until we take our time, place ourselves consciously between past and future and create a connection between them. Perception, reflection, learning and understanding require the development of resistance against the linear flow of time – only then does development become visible.

Placing ourselves in the middle in this way requires a power which only I-aware human beings have; that is, neither to let themselves be determined by the past nor to be tied down in their present activity by thoughts of the future. It means being truly present, it means being truly of our time.

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