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Sunday, 20 May 2018

Living in the Present? But What If ‘Now’ Doesn’t Exist?

  • Learn from the past
  • Live in the present
  • Plan for the future
Pretty well every leadership and motivational speaker knows this mantra and uses it ad nauseam and rightly so because it makes a great deal of sense.

At least it does on a superficial level and indeed it stands some interesting examination and analysis.

The concept of time is very complex simply because it is an intangible measured in an arbitrary manner.

If we examine the implication of time then the past is self-evident.  It started 13.5 billion years ago and...when did it stop?

On face of it the past ends in the present and that is where the future starts.  The question is, precisely when does the past end and the future start? In other words, when is the present?

Newtonian physics postulates that time is like a river, flowing from the past, through the present and on into the future and that implies that the present is definable.

But is it?  Whenever we make a decision it immediately moves into the past and whenever we take action in the future it also instantaneously reverts to the past.  

This implies that “now” is a very interesting concept because we can define everything that we do in terms of the past and the future but not the “now”.

Indeed mathematically “now” is an infinitely small space of time between the past and the future and that means that in practical terms it does not exist.

We talk about the present, live in the present, think in the present, don’t concern ourselves with the past and the future but it is the present that matters.

What then if it doesn’t exist to any significant extent?

We measure time in an arbitrary way loosely linked to the phases of the sun and the moon and amazingly in a manner that has been universally adopted throughout the world.

Almost the last vestige of being different was North Korea who awkwardly decided to have a time that differed from the South by half an hour.

Last month the decision was taken to regularise so what does that mean about time?

Time becomes a philosophical experience rather than a tangible actuality and that means that we need to give it some sort of form so that we can understand it and use it more effectively.

Time matters when we go for a train or more so when we miss a train but those events are controlled by our measurement of time in seconds, minutes, days, years, millenia and so on.

We use phrases like “I don’t have the time” or “how long will it take?”when we all have exactly the same amount of time as everyone else.

The Book of Ecclesiastes puts it cogently::

There is a time for everything
and a season for everything under the sun
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to reap,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh etc. etc.

We can’t “make time” to do anything but we can allocate the time we have in the most effective ways.

Time wasted in something that we enjoy or even doing nothing is not time wasted.  We tend to need to fill every waking hour with activity when what perhaps is needed is to spend more time thinking  and meditating positively.

Above all the greatest waste of time is concentrating on what might have been, to live in the past and live a life of “what if?

I learnt a lesson years ago from a great friend of mine who, when I told him my sad tale, advised me to go home, draw a line in the sand and get on with living my life.  

It was the best and wisest advice I have ever had.

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