This post is based on something I vaguely remember Sally Gillespie [linked in] [twitter] [Routledge] [Johmenadue] saying. This is almost a self help post, but I feel that somewhere there is something I don’t understand about reality lurking beneath. I don’t know what I’m doing here. So please excuse what is crass – or tell me in the comments so this can be better and more focused.
Time is fundamental
Time is like the currency of human life.
What you build and become comes out of time, or emerges from time.
Time is the first thing you have, possibly the only thing you have, no matter how short that time proves to be.
If you want to be a musician you have to devote time to music. If you want to be a sportsperson you devote time to your sport. If you want to be an academic you devote time to thinking, to reading (at least some other academics), observing/participating in what you are interested in and writing. If you want to be a successful or influential academic, sports person or musician, you also probably have to devote time to self-promotion and networking. This can be painful to some of us, but its nearly always true. Even if someone discovers you, you will nearly always still have to spend time in the networking. Think how much time J.K. Rowling had to spend to get her novels published in the first place. Or you can hope someone discovers you after death, and you can live with the difficulties (and advantages) of that. Or you can devote your time to becoming peaceful, or kind, or holy, where being a known success can be unimportant.
Of course devoting time, will not always lead to success, but it seems fundamental to what you become.
Energy and Time
As well as devoting time, you have to devote energy. If you just passively watch sport, you may gain an appreciation of the sport, you may even gain some skill, but you probably will not become a sportsperson. You need to put energy into a practice, an active involvement in doing. If you want to become a sports commentator or an expositor, you need to put energy into doing that.
You cannot use energy without time. You can perhaps use time without that much energy if you are meditating, but even meditating requires some energy and persistence when you had rather do something else. So energy and time seem related. In general ‘productive’ time requires energy.
Paradox of habit
Most of my blogs argue in favour of recognising complexity and even chaos. The main lesson is, I think, correct: humans cannot completely control the world or themselves. We always benefit by paying attention to the inevitable unintended consequences of what we do. We need to flow with reality and work with reality.
The way we spend time nearly always builds some kind of organisation or disorganisation.
It is probably useful, should you wish to build on what you have done, to aim for some kind of organisation in your approach, or what I’ve called creating ‘islands of order’. Sometimes being chaotic can be good. Sometimes being ordered can be good.
Devoting time to ‘something,’ builds organisation of necessity – whether that organisation/disorganisation is useful or not. Building organisation builds habits. Building disorganisation builds habits. Whatever we do in time repeatedly may build habits.
More or less by definition we can say that, ‘well organised habits can give momentum and direction to our work’, and ‘badly organised habits can disrupt momentum and direction’. For example, our society’s current form of economic organisation builds habits which disrupt our attempts to attempt to build momentum and direction for restoration of ecologies. To build momentum and direction we not only need to use time to recognise the complexity of the world, but (paradoxically) we need to take time to build well organised habits which help us observe and react to that complexity, and help build resilience, help reduce the crisis and lead to restored ecologies.
Practicing an hour a day on whatever we care about, will help us succeed. This is using time in an organised way to produce organisation in what we devote ourselves too – and that makes learning easier. This is part of becoming, and again we cannot avoid building habits. If we habitually (but perhaps unintentionally) produce disorder, or self-defeating habits, then that is what we produce.
Sometimes we may have to be prepared to throw habits away to get better, or learn something new, but that does not subvert the basic point. Humans build habits through time and energy, and they build their self-organisation, and approach to the world, in those habits.
This is the paradox. Human use of time and energy makes habit and some kind of organisation, this may not always be constructive or helpful; but it will be there. Habits may undermine what we want to do or need to do. It is probably good to ensure the habits we build are useful to flourishing and survival.
Loss of time
Time is not like a currency, because you cannot accumulate it. When its gone, its gone. As your life is time, your life is gone along with time. You have only what you have built with that time, deliberately or/and otherwise.
Things that ‘steal’ time from you steal your life and energy. Every second, your life is shorter, but every second has given you the time to build something (including habits), to be, or to become and you can’t help but choose to build, be and become. I’m not implying you will only become what you want to become, that requires attention to complexity, and useful organisation.
You build (your being? your existence? your habits) even if you ‘waste’ your time. Some people who are imprisoned or enslaved manage to build constructively – Nelson Mandela for one – but this is not easy, and there are probably limits. The point is that sometimes imprisoned people can engage in becoming, more consciously than people who are free (even if freedom is a massive advantage), because they can realise time is vital, and can manage to devote time and energy to that becoming and their constructive habits, more than to their imprisonment or slavery.
So, whatever our condition, we may need to attend to time, energy and the form of organisation/disorganisation we are building for ourselves and the world. Perhaps, to some extent, you have to co-operate with the loss of your time, to lose it completely.
In most cultures nowadays we waste the land as well as waste time. We probably waste time unconsciously just as we waste land unconsciously. But we need land just as we need time. What do we stand on, if not time and land?
Life and energy require respite. You cannot just use time to work at what you build consciously. You need rest. In other words to fully use time, you must apparently waste time. But this waste need not be laying to waste, but building respite, or building a useful island of order and recuperation. You can use time and energy to build your capacity to use time well, by doing nothing. Resting, lying fallow, is essential to time (as it is to cultivated land), but it can waste time as well. As usual, a process can be both useful and harmful depending on how it fits with organisation.
We don’t know what time is, we know it appears to pass, and it appears to consume, but it is what allows us to become, and to form the temporary ‘order’ of habit. It is why we need energy. One reason we need to eat.
I guess the point is to put time and energy into where your heart is, if you can feel where that is. If you can’t then you may need to put time and energy into finding where your heart is. You might also need to find out what habits are needed, and build on them, being prepared to change habits as you learn more. Another slogan is “learn by doing”.
As a culture, we may need to stop ‘wasting’ our time or using our time unconsciously, and put our attention on to what we can find out about is happening, and that involves being aware that people will try and ‘steal’ our time, by sending us to places which waste time. Yet paradoxically, perhaps, we can only find out what is real, by being prepared to waste time.
But without spending our time and energy in some kind of organised way that recognises the potential of disorder, the world will be harder still for those who come after us.
To repeat: “Time is the first thing you have, possibly the only thing you have, no matter how short that time proves to be.” It is effectively your life.