Human beings have a tenuous relationship with time, mainly because the concept of time is very difficult for us to define. Time, as we experience it, is both subjective and objective. It's both an illusion and very real. Subjectively, time 'flies' when we are having fun and 'drags' when we are not. Objectively, we can view the phases of the moon, the growing of our fingernails and the graying of our hair and determine with certainty that days, months and years are passing by.
We treat time as if it were a commodity. We tend to believe the assertion that "time is money," and so we try to spend time wisely. We are always finding ways to save time. We really don't like to waste time and, honestly, we wish we had more time. Unfortunately, many of us feel like there just isn't enough time and, as a result, we often get anxious because we feel like time is running out.
As an example, now that September has arrived, notice that people around you will start to say, "I can't believe how quickly this year has gone by. Where did all the time go?" That is the thing about time. Despite our best efforts to stop it or slow it down, it keeps relentlessly marching on into infinity. I think people get particularly nervous when September arrives because, eight months in, we now find ourselves in the final four months of the year. We are no longer at the beginning of the year, or even half way through it. September signals the beginning of the end. We are running out of time - winter is coming!
However, it doesn't need to feel this way. If we are able to better understand what time is, it may help soothe the desperate feeling that we don't have enough of it. The first thing we need to do is let go of the illusion that time moves in a straight line. In school we were taught to create 'timelines' in which events appear to occur in a sequential direction, starting on the left and ending on the right. From this we get the false belief that time moves along in a predetermined direction, with one event leading into the next. However, time does not 'move' because it has no physical properties- it cannot move. Time is right now, unfolding here in the present moment. Time never actually goes anywhere.
What we commonly think of as time is really just changes in the spatial relationship between physical objects. Imagine, if you can, the Universe before the Big Bang occurred. No stars, no planets, no moons- nothing at all. It's interesting that, devoid of all physical objects, there is no time, just eternal presence. There is no time because it is impossible to track one object's progress through space in relationship to another object.
The Earth's position in space relative to the sun is the basis of our objective concept of time. The Earth spinning on it's axis, wobbling like a top, and orbiting around the sun is what gives us our days, seasons and years. Much like the ticking of a clock, we recognize that a unit of time has passed whenever a full circle is completed. Time is not moving forward in this scenario. Time stays in one place, eternally present. Meanwhile our planet spins, wobbles and circles it's way through empty space.
Instead of a using a timeline, perhaps a more accurate metaphor for the passage of time is to imagine a perfectly still body of water. Then imagine a large rock dropped into the water from above. After the initial splash- which takes place in the present moment- a series of ripples begin radiating out from the center and continue radiating outward forever and ever. Another way to look at time is to imagine a boat crossing a body of water. The people on the boat are in the 'now,' experiencing the present moment as it occurs. Looking back, they see a wake moving away in a long v-shape. The wake was created in the present moment, but now it is in the past- a distant echo of what once occurred here in the now.
Next time you feel like there isn't enough time, take a step back and realize that, actually, all you have is time. Time is not running out- time is all that there is. In reality, the present moment is the only thing you will ever experience. You cannot go back and live in the past any more than you can travel forward to the future. All you can ever do is be here right now. By remaining rooted in the moment you will never run out of time again.
Nick Hughes is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and co-owner of Well Being.