Have you ever had the experience of wanting to drive somewhere in a hurry, only to find a succession of abnormally slow cars in front of you, slowing you down? I’ve had this repeatedly.
Here in Milton Keynes the grid road is designed to allow inner city traffic to flow at 60 miles per hour. Yet whenever I seem to be in a hurry, cars—no, they are more like mobile chicanes—miraculously appear, doing 40. And when they peel off, to my great relief, but—horror!—another car joins the road ahead of me, going even more slowly. And then another!
Two forms of time
Yesterday morning, sitting at a pedestrian crossing traffic light that was red without a single pedestrian in sight, I realised there are two forms of time. One is the ‘normal’ time that stresses me out when snail-like cars slow me down, traffic lights randomly turn red or other obstacles appear. The other form of time might be called spiritual time—God’s time.
The first of these times is limited. The second is unlimited. Limited time urges us to rush through the things we don’t want in our lives to make more room for the things we do want. Unlimited time works on the principle that every moment of our lives is sacred and has a perfect duration—when it starts and ends.
Unlimited time works on the principle that every moment of our lives is sacred and has a perfect duration—when it starts and ends
Limited time is stressful. We are under pressure to minimise the time spent on the trivial and the disdainful. Then, with the time we’ve supposedly opened up (but in fact rarely do because of the obstacles that miraculously slow us down), we’re suddenly supposed to be having memorable, peak experiences. Maximising the use of our time… but how? The phrase ‘spend time’ shows that we conceive of it like money, as a limited resource to be used wisely.
In 1973, English progressive rock band Pink Floyd recorded Dark Side of the Moon, a concept album about life’s stresses. One of the songs is called simply ‘Time’. It reveals the lie of limited time and its pressures: ‘Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time / Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines / Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way / The time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say’.
Time and death
Our concept of time as a limited resource is closely allied to our sense of death. We only have an allotted span and must make the most of it. This is a recipe that can only shorten our allotted span.
The source of this unconscious belief is the patriarchal programming that still underlies current society. Patriarchal thinking is inherently based on lack and the need to counter lack—hence its masculine-dominant value system that perceives rushing around, trying to do stuff as the antidote to our lacks.
One of these lacks is the lack of time, which we try to counter through the limited approach to time described above. Of course, death—the end of our individual time—is the ultimate lack.
There is another way of thinking. In a letter dated around AD 70, Apollonius of Tyana wrote that, “There is no death of anyone, save in appearance, just as there is no birth of any, save only in seeming.” Is Apollonius writing ignorantly from a bygone era—or does he show us the blind stupidity of the modern materialist view that anything not scientifically validated is false?
Either way, the concept of deathlessness opens us up to the unlimited nature of spiritual time. Here there is no lack of time. We simply allow the flow of life to deliver us to each event—each place, each appointment; each experience—at exactly the right moment.
We stop thinking in terms of good times and bad times and allow all times to be valuable. Stress and anxiety lessen when there is no need to arrive anytime other than when life delivers us. And if that requires a random red light or a slug-like car crawling in front of you, sit back and enjoy the ride.