Time is an illusion. Sure, we’ve all heard it said before a million times. But today I’m challenging you to actually slow down and really think about what this statement means. So, tell me, can you spare the five minutes it’ll take for me to explain to you just what it is exactly I’m going on about?
Good. Well, first, then, in a purely philosophical sense, let me give you a working definition of what time actually is. Are you ready?
Ok, time is simply the clearly observable fact that everything we experience doesn’t happen all at once. Or if you want to put it another way, we experience our lives as being a series of sequential events rather than as an instantaneous happening.
Now, I’m not going to debate here whether this experience of sequential time is an illusion, although I suspect in all likelihood that it is. No, rather I’m going to instead focus on drawing attention to the completely arbitrary way we as humans divide up time as we perceive it.
At the outset, therefore, I feel the need to tell you that I personally don’t “do” time. I don’t wear a watch, I never check the clock and I ask people to refrain (wherever possible) from telling me the time.
This idea, of course. doesn’t belong to me alone. I was first introduced to the whole anti-time concept by Carl Honoré‘s The Power of Slow. And since listening to the spoken word version of said title over a year ago, I have tried to live without external time constraints ever since.
But why? you ask. Aren’t you neglecting your civil duty as a functional member of society to always know what time of the day or night it is?
My answer? I don’t care.
I refuse to go back to being a slave of time, not since I’ve committed myself to this choice of paradigm shift for so long now already. And anyway ultimately the benefits are too massive to give up.
Ordinarily, I’m a punctual person. Punctual to the point of compulsion, if I’m going to be honest about it. But without a watch to rule me, I’ve learnt to become more fluid in my approach to things. Where before I couldn’t stand to be even a minute late for anything, now it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.
What’s more I used to demand the same level of punctuality from others, whereas now I don’t. Something which, I believe, has made me a much more easy person to get along with I’m sure. Beyond that, let me also confide in you that I used to suffer from insomnia. Whereas now I don’t, largely in part to the fact that I have no idea of the number of hours of sleep I get each night. Problem solved.
Obviously, there are still those occasions where time is of the essence. Our lives demand that sometimes we have no choice but to be at a certain place at a certain time. However, even in such instances I would still advocate an anti-time approach.
As a case in point, about a year ago, I was asked by an extended family member to drive them interstate for a course of medical treatment that couldn’t be obtained within the city we both lived in at the time. The family member was terminally ill and was unable to drive for the four hours each way it would take for him to get to the hospital appointment and back again.
Just like anyone else who might have found themselves asked to do the same, I said that, of course, yes, I was more than prepared to do this for the family member concerned.
Ok, so, typically I would have approached the whole trip as a kind of frantic mercy dash. I would have sped most of the way and sworn at each and every one of the inevitable delays that come with long distance driving.
But the revelation that occurred for me on this trip was that the usual stress I would place myself under in such circumstances is entirely a matter of time-based anxiety. Typically, I would be stressing the entire way that we were going to arrive too late for the possibly lifesaving appointment we were trying to get to. The whole time I would be frantically checking the clock and panicking that we weren’t going to make it.
By contrast, I didn’t look at the time once. Sure, I roughly knew from experience how long it would take to make the trip in question. But other than allotting the general amount of time necessary to cover the distance involved, I resolved to let the actual passing hours and minutes take care of themselves.
A risky move, when someone else’s health and future are a stake, you might say. Yet I had only just recently converted to the whole “slow movement” that Carl Honoré is a prominent exponent of, along with a few other high profile advocates of this same general call for slowing down society. And because of my being new to it, I suppose, I wished to test how powerful the “power of slow” really was in real life.
But what about the outcomes? What happened? Did we make it “on time” for the appointment? Yes. Yes, we did. Even after getting lost right at the end, I was told we managed to arrive with 20 minutes to spare, evidently.
And the appointment? Did it save the family member’s life? No. No, sadly, it did not.
But I still believe the trip illustrates a larger truth about life. Namely this, we are all ultimately headed for the same destination, but the way we choose to travel on our way to getting there is entirely up to us. We can spend all of our time stressing about how little of it we are allotted, or we can instead focus on deepening our bonds with our fellow traveling companions while we still have the chance.
Distilled down to its essence, another way of saying this is that life is about the journey, not the destination. So why hurry?