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That Time I Tried to Grasp the Concept of Time

And why it’s about time to start living in the now.

Picture by meetjosue via Twenty20

Isn’t it weird that the moment seems to be forever forgotten in this age of eternal progression and instant speed? Too often it feels that this perpetual motion machine called time is almost impossible to stop.

Nevertheless, the past always seems to catch up, with its tricky ways of luring us into the depths of melancholy and regrets of unfulfilled dreams.

Indeed, often I find myself being absorbed by tons of trivialities. Working for the sake of working. Ah, the spirit of our times! But where am I actually heading? What is the bigger picture?

And then, when I do find a moment to call a halt upon these ongoing hustles and bustles, I start to contemplate. Would my life have been different if I had made more solid decisions back then? Maybe I would have been a successful writer by now if I just had pursued that writing career ten years ago.

Forget the future, forget the past

It’s good to know that these kinds of thoughts are not an exclusive feature of our modern times. In fact, it’s almost a relief to note that pondering about the concept of time has been a popular hobby through the course of human history.

One of those enthusiasts was Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, kindly reminding us that all it takes is a simple change in our point of view. Take a few steps back and look at life from a distant perspective; as a passive observant if you will. This bigger picture will likely remind us that our actions are insignificant in the great scheme of events. And, even more, we can only have an impact on the things we do in the now.

“The present belongs to all; to die is to lose the present; which is the briefest of lapses. No one loses the past or future, because no man can be deprived of what he does not have.” (Marcus Aurelius: Reflections II, 14)

Schopenhauer, that lovely eternal pessimist, made a similar observation. The only thing that really matters is the present, says Schopenhauer, not the future or the past.

“Future and past are only in concept, exist only in the connection and continuity of knowledge in so far as this follows the principle of sufficient reason. No man has lived in the past, and none will ever live in the future; the present alone is the form of all life.” (Schopenhauer: The World as Will and Representation I)

Past and future are only concepts, spamming the already overcrowded mailbox of our minds. I think it’s time to finally trash them.

Remember the ‘now’

If past and future are redirected to the dustbin and discarded as non-existing, conceptual clutter, what remains is the now. Now, as in this exact moment, is the only timeframe that actually matters.

To stress the importance of the now we’ll have to zoom out again. This time let’s head into space and observe the beauty of the one thing that includes everything (including space and time): the universe.

Using the most advanced technology on the market let’s take out our infinite pixels camera and make one all including picture of the cosmos. As the resolution of this fantastic snapshot is unmeasurable big, we can zoom in endlessly without losing quality. This one photo has effectively caught everything that exists in one specific moment in time. This picture then, documents that everything is connected to everything in every single moment.

Now this moment can go on to live forever. This is the ultimate example of complexity caught in one simple image. Nothing is separate.

The visionary Aldous Huxley contemplated this in his great anthology of divine reality called ‘The Perennial Philosophy’. There’s more to man than body and psyche, there is also this third entity called the spirit. The concept of an ‘eternal now’, according to Huxley, is a consciousness of the spirit.

“The present moment is the only aperture through which the soul can pass out of time into eternity, through which grace can pass out of eternity into the soul, and through which charity can pass from one soul in time to another soul in time.” (Huxley: The Perennial Philosophy)

Press: pause

When confronted with thoughts about a lost past or an unforeseeable future, remember to press pause for a moment. Take the perspective of a spectator of your own life. See the bigger picture. The formula ‘what would have been, if I had done this instead of that’ then, starts to lose any significant meaning.

It is impossible to change the past. It’s impossible to predict the future. To accept things the way they are is almost always the better option.

What we can do though, is to make an impact at this very moment. This is the key to meaningful change.

Instead of working for eternity with the singular goal of accumulating wealth and prestige in an imaginary, nonexistent future, we should start living in the now, dedicated and open-minded. We should embrace limits and find joy in sharing instead of accumulating. We should understand that everything we do has an impact on others. In the end, we are only a part of this bigger scheme called everything. So let’s embrace the present and start living for today.

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Micha van Amsterdam

Micha van Amsterdam

Simple, sustainable lifestyle design, self-sufficiency and local, perennial culture.

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