Blogger Mike Molton questions why we elevate the transcendent moments when we don’t notice time and says we should instead embrace the repetitive, everyday tasks when we are fully aware of it.
Sometimes life just feels like a long series of jobs to get through on your way to somewhere else. We talk about work/ life balance, like work and life are opposite concepts. But maybe this is an unhelpful way to look at things.
I did my degree in philosophy when I went to University. I can’t say it has really been much help vocationally, but it certainly taught me that the more you think about anything, the more confusing it gets. Time, for example, is an incredibly confusing concept – and if you don’t think it is, you just haven’t thought about it enough.
Think of any unit of time – a second, a millisecond, whatever is smaller than a millisecond- you can always half it, always take another slice off. So the concept of ‘now’ ends up such a fine razor’s edge that it is infinitely sharp.
So the next thought that you ought to be having (in my opinion, but maybe hold off if you’ve got more immediate practical considerations on hand e.g. lighthouse keeping) – is what exactly is ‘now’?
Seriously, where is this now that you are experiencing? Neurologists say there is a tiny electrical delay between sense data getting into your brain from the outside, and then you being able to decode it into thoughts. So by default you’re always catching up on something that happened in the past. Even if we actually manage to ‘live in the moment’, it’s a fairly arbitrary moment that’s not actually ‘now’.
Anyway, the fact is we generally don’t even live in this illusory thing we call ‘now’ anyway. We are thinking about the future, or the past, or even just how we are feeling about what happened two seconds ago. We are not ever really in ‘now’. To address this, we have the concepts of ‘flow’ – those beautiful times you are so absorbed in a task that you’re mind contains nothing else – or states that mindfulness mentors and meditators will talk about – the idea of completely transcending the ego or self and just purely being in the moment. A state of being without being actively conscious of being a being – balancing on the impossibly sharp edge of ‘now’.
If we can manage this and we are essentially transcending even being here, what does it mean to be alive? What’s the point if existing if we don’t even know about it? Rocks achieve this without even trying – I’m sure time just flies past for them. At the other end of the spectrum, there is a character in the novel Catch 22 who goes out of his way to make his life as boring as possible to ensure that it seems all the longer – making sure that no time is flying by whilst he is having fun.
So really, when are you most alive? Those transcendent instances when you aren’t even aware of time? You’re not really even there for them. So maybe it’s actually the more boring moments in life, where you are utterly aware of your existence and the passing of time. That boring work task, that 27th time reading your child the same story – maybe those are actually the things we should be embracing as the essence of being alive, rather than things to be waded through. Maybe that is what makes us really experience being alive – the rest is basically escapism.
So what is the point of all this? That the mundane, the dull, the necessary, of everyday life should be what we treasure because it is what it really means to experience being alive, so don’t skip past it on your way to another now that doesn’t exist.