He was late and as soon as he sat down, his very first words were: “Can’t stay long, got to go by 2, pards.” The three of us who did not mind waiting looked at our old friend with dismay, silently expressing what was all in our minds: “You’ve just arrived, why the hurry? Besides this meet-up happens only once a year.”
As a retiree or pensioner, are you still counting the time like our friend I just mentioned?
All our days since birth have been regulated by clocks and watches, the measuring tools of a concept called Time. Each of us is labeled as “young,” “middle-aged,” “old” and “very old,” based on the years of existence counted since the day of birth.
Today, we are befuddled by various concepts of time. There’s physical time, absolute time, real time, virtual time, universal time, local time, Eastern standard time, synchronized time, delayed time, cinematic time, and so on. Not to mention “Filipino time.”
The funny thing is we can’t see Time and we can’t touch it. So, how do we know that it’s really there?
Many scientists and philosophers argue that time is not a fixed and objective reality, but rather a subjective and artificial construct of the human mind. No less than Albert Einstein said: “People like us who believe in physics know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
Illusion or not, Time is in the perception of the beholder. Just like color. Scientific tests affirm that it is perceived differently by each person. Time can seem to speed up or slow down. For example, activities that take place in unfamiliar surroundings often seemingly take longer. What is considered as “late arrival” by one social group may be seen as “just the proper time” by another social group.
Even the ancient Greeks already recognized there is such a thing as subjective time (kairos) that differs from so-called chronological or physical time (chronos).
Where I grew up, I remember that people did not have watches. My late auntie Consa could tell you the time of the day by just looking at the position of the sun or the length of your shadow. Not the exact time in hours and minutes but her over-all sense of the moment. “Kalagitnaan ng umaga. Tanghali na. Magdadapit hapon na.”
When you asked the estimated time you would be able to reach the barrio you want to go to, rural folks would say, “tatlong sigarilyo lang nandoon ka na” instead of “tatlumpung minuto.” That’s the Filipino way of perceiving time: not linear but pictorial. We don’t say “pintig ng oras.” We say “daloy ng panahon.” Our idea of time is not precise but experiential. “Di ko naramdaman ang daloy ng oras.”
In our college boardinghouse, we were oblivious to clock time. An hour would be measured by the number of songs played on the radio. Conversations ticked by at the pace of a cigarette or few bottles of beer. For me, the math class went on like forever while literature class was too short. Time was not exact, fixed or rigid, but malleable.
The change began when we became corporate cogs after college. We were habituated into thinking that life must be lived in terms of only one time: clock time. We built external routines and mental habits by following clocks and watches. We became creatures of what scientists call “neural adaptation.”
The alarm would go off in the morning. We commuted and had to be at the office by 8. We took a lunch break. Then back to work at 1. Went home at 5. Spent an hour or so commuting back home. Would have supper around 7. Went to sleep at 9. Then repeat.
As an ad copywriter I was once tasked by a dimwit brand manager to write the objective for every 3-second frame of a 30-second commercial! It was the most pointless time-oriented thing I did in my entire life as a creative person.
A life of time-based routines was so embedded in our biological system; even now some friends in post-retirement would always check if their watches are on their wrists when they go out, even if they already have their smartphones. One senior colleague once kept vexing us about the time because he left his watch at home. It is as if “at my back I always hear / Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near” to borrow the poet Andrew Marvell’s lines, which for me best express the “carpe diem” thinking of modern times.
I got news for retired clock punchers! You’re free! Free to live a new life outside the clock prison. You are no longer owned by Time. Instead, you own Time.
Remember the cliché “quality time” as opposed to “quantity time”? Now you can focus on giving more value and more meaning to the time spent with your beloved, starting with your inner self.
What is important is you derive joy and meaning from the moment, to echo what Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian poet, said: “The butterfly counts not months but moments and has time enough.” To paraphrase Albert Camus: “Beauty offers a glimpse of eternity in a moment.” This sentiment is echoed by Francis Bacon, the English philosopher, when he wrote: “We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand, and melting like a snowflake.”
So how do you get the most juice out of each moment, so to speak?
Intensify the feeling of the moment. Instead of being conscious of the ticking of the time, pay attention to what one poet calls “the influxes of feelings and sensations.”
Call me a slow eater. But when I eat, I like to eat with a sense of “mono no aware,” savoring each morsel, relishing the delectable taste and scent of each dish, listening to the crunch of the vegetable stem when I bite it. This is why I prefer not to have a loud and lively conversation while eating. I want to converse with my senses instead.
When I sleep, I fall into a deep restful sleep. I don’t have an alarm clock to alert and prompt me up and disturb my body’s equilibrium so early in the morning.
Don’t listen to voices that say you’re wasting your time by not doing anything productive. Novelist Marthe Troly-Curtin has this to say: “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” The amount of time spent on an activity doesn’t matter. So long as you fully and truly enjoy it.
Next time I meet my friend who is still living in clock time, I’ll tell him the advice of Kathryn Budig, a celebrated author and yoga teacher. Slow down. Take your time, pards. At our age, there’s no more rush to be good, moneyed or renowned.