It’s nearly Christmas! Yes, I know it’s only September but it won’t be long before the shops are bedecked with shiny plastic tat and soon-to-be unwanted presents. When I flip to a new month on the calendar I always have the same thought: “Where did the time go?”
Time seems to move faster each year. Perhaps I’m just getting old, but I always feel like I’m running to catch up. I never have enough time to do all the things I want to do. Even when I actually manage to be productive, I still feel like I’m spinning my wheels, going nowhere fast.
Scream if you want to go faster
When we lived in an agricultural society our sense of time was governed by the seasons, but with the rise of industrial society we moved away from natural cycles into clock time. With the use of computers, time has shrunk even further. Stock exchanges can now trade faster than we can think – a million times faster.
Our days (and nights) are subdivided into thousands of increments which never seem to stop. The need for economic growth means more must be accomplished in less time each year. This pressure to do more with less makes us feel like we’re always rushing. The stress of hurrying impacts our health and happiness, and we feel disconnected from each other because we’re too busy to look up from the treadmill.
It also means we’re less likely to think about the future in any meaningful way. The demands of the present moment and our short-term goals mean we live in a blur of activity that takes us precisely nowhere. This kind of focus on the present isn’t the same as being in the eternal Now, but we’ll come to that later…
There are five major problems with this short-term focus:
1. Short-term benefits outweigh long-term costs
In the short-term it makes sense for each of us to grab what we can and enjoy ourselves as much as possible. Life is short and booze is cheap. The threat of a hangover can be ignored, until it hits. The inability to pay off our credit cards isn’t a problem, until the bailiffs take away the TV.
2. We don’t see disasters coming our way
Nobody knows what will happen in the future, but when we focus exclusively on what is directly in front of us we miss vital clues. Like the Titanic running into an iceberg despite the warnings, we suddenly find ourselves overtaken by disaster. We know oil reserves are limited but we refuse to change to a more sustainable way of living. The crunch is coming, but most prefer not to look.
3. Narrow timescales are self-reinforcing
Avoidance of the future means we end up living in a kind of time bubble. If we try to look beyond our immediate situation it can be disorienting or even disturbing. Often our imagination of the future closely resembles the present, but with shinier surfaces and even more Wi-Fi. Thinking about the consequences of how we are living can make us feel guilty, so we just don’t.
4. We export problems to the future
The industrial economy operates on short timeframes designed to maximise profits and minimize costs. If something isn’t on the balance sheet, it doesn’t exist. So costs incurred later, such as safety and maintenance, are cut back regardless of the consequences. The nuclear industry provides a perfect example: we still have no idea how to deal with the toxic waste and yet we keep building nuclear plants. Dumping it into concrete tombs that are ‘safe’ for the next 100 years is not a solution anyone living 105 years from now will appreciate.
5. Narrow timescales diminish the meaning of our lives
Many of us are so busy rushing around we barely notice where we’re going. The future becomes abstracted and the only things we plan for are special occasions, like birthdays or holidays. Thinking ten years ahead seems a long way off. So much could happen in the meantime, what would be the point in planning anything? This has the effect of keeping us at the surface of life and we never stop to consider why we live the way we do.
One thing is clear: if we keep going like this, we will hit the wall.
Time Travel for Dummies
The earth has witnessed many mass extinctions already, and humans may be next if we don’t change our short-term thinking habit. We haven’t been around long and it would be a shame if we were to disappear now – just as we’re beginning to understand who we are.
Here’s a great drawing of the History of Earth from FIHS, to put us humans into context. Click the image to see it full size and read the cartoons – well worth a look!
If we map this history into 24 hours, the human race only emerges in the last five minutes. If we map the development of the human species into 24 hours, the Industrial Revolution starts at two minutes to midnight. And in the last 20 seconds (i.e. since 1950), we use up more resources and fuel than the entire human history up to this point.
If we’re not to become another extinction statistic, we need to change our view of time. Short-term thinking removes us from the continuity of the past and the future. We have largely forgotten our ancestors and we think nothing of the people who will come after us. But we are the ancestors of the future. What will people 200 years from now (if there are any) think of our legacy?
The Time is Now
There are two ways of dealing with this problem. One is to re-inhabit time in a new way, and the other is to step out of time into the eternal Now.
Re-inhabiting time brings us back in touch with the past and our ancestors. It connects us to an ecological view of ourselves as stewards of the Earth. This ‘ecological intelligence’ thinks in terms of ‘deep time’ and puts us into the context of our whole story. This is especially important considering that some of our technology has consequences that extend far into the future. If we survive the 21st century we’ll still be dealing with the fallout (literally) of these technologies.
“Take the thousand tons of depleted uranium weaponry used in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cancer-causing aerosol it leaves behind has a half-life of four and half billion years. That is as long as the age of the Earth.” – Active Hope
We need to slow down and touch the earth, and remember what it is that keeps us alive. Many more people now suffer from allergies, some of them life-threatening. This rise in allergies is linked to a lack of the right kind of bacteria in our gut. We don’t go outside into nature and get our hands dirty anymore, and this has compromised our immune systems. A return to the earth and a reconnection with the land would improve our health as well as change our view of time.
Reconnecting with the Earth reminds us that the natural world doesn’t run on clock time. Nothing actually runs on clock time. It’s an illusion, a bubble we’ve created in our own heads and a stick we use to beat ourselves with. The acceleration of time isn’t real, and neither are the profits we’re working so hard to accumulate. We’re killing the earth and ourselves for a fantasy.
The ‘present’ of our short-term focus is one that exists in time and so it keeps moving. To stay with it, we must keep moving too. Hence the mad rush. Stepping into the eternal Now takes us out of time and into peace. As Eckhart Tolle says, it’s time to end the delusion of time:
“Time and mind are inseparable. Remove time from the mind and it stops – unless you choose to use it. To be identified with your mind is to be trapped in time… This creates an endless preoccupation with past and future and an unwillingness to honour and acknowledge the present moment and allow it to be. The compulsion arises because the past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation… Both are illusions.” – The Power of Now
Next more time travel in Imagining the Future