This is for the one who introduced Honesty Circle to me – here’s to being who we want to be and abandoning the race against time.
It’s 7.27AM, I have 45 minutes (on this bus ride) on a good day:
Rainy days are best for sleeping. As the raindrops patter against the window pane and the view outside blurs, the clouds block the sunlight that reminds us it’s time to wake up. This morning, as the phone alarm rings, it triggers a ‘flight or fight’ response – so much so that I wake up, turn it off and roll out of bed within the first ring. Record time, always. On the way to work, with the aftertaste of this morning’s coffee fix still residing in my mouth, this morning’s bus ride is dedicated to reflections on time.
Hastened footsteps, shoving on public transport, multitasking on our mobile devices and our aversion to just doing nothing – they are proof of how much we ‘value’ time. Checking how long before the next bus arrives, incessantly referring to our iPhones and watches for the time and intuitively looking for the “x mins” sign on MRT platform screens. We even talk quickly in a group setting for fear that we will be ‘wasting the time of others’. Our everyday checklists of things ‘to do’ are dictated by deadlines – the when subsumes the how, why and what. The gears that crank away to display the seconds, minutes, hours on our clocks were tools created merely for measurement and synchrony in the Industrial Revolution. Centuries on, today, they are the rhythm to our footsteps and the metronome for our routines. Every breath, every heartbeat; carefully timed.
We are so fearful of ‘wasting’ time because we recognize that the nature of time has it that the minutes and hours are exhaustive – they are irreplaceable, irreversible and a scarce resource. The illusion of scarcity scares us for it seems that there is never enough time. Clearly, we have yet to embrace ‘sufficiency’. I quote Lynne Twist, the author of The Soul of Money – “Sufficiency isn’t two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn’t a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough and that we are enough.” We are learning the ropes to sufficiency and our fear of regret is slowing us down. Our refusal to believe in the sufficiency of our moments is a product of our fear of regret. It makes us nervous, almost shameful. The 21st century “YOLO” (You only live once) mantra and consequently, the myriad of risks taken (sometimes foolishly) is one peppered with pride because of the lack of regret. It seems, it is an achievement for “regret” to be absent in our dictionaries. Regret, though, is the aftermath of learning and growth – the realization that some decisions could be made better and the lesson that reminds us our judgment is fallible. How much time will it take for us to let go of our fear of regret and embrace sufficiency?
Let’s reframe. What exactly are we rushing for anyway? Striving endlessly to do things as quickly as possible, but what for? Perhaps, the obsession with time and its value has distracted us. We are so afraid of ‘wasting’ time that we worry incessantly about making every moment productive. What a waste. There is confusion between “productivity” and “meaning”. The ‘Singapore success story’ is one defined by economic development: not just that of the nation, but that of ourselves. We even have an informally communicated timeline for every individual – by your 20s, be a university student and by the late 20s, get a head start in the workforce. The 30s should see you forming up a family unit, bringing in a steady flow of income, leading a life of security and certainty. Have a life of illustrious portfolio climbing up the career ladder, and retire at 65 to travel the world. Anywhere off tangent from this timeline and your presence would be an invite to ‘interrogations’ about how much time do you think you have?
I am a strong believer of creating fulfilling moments to make up our days that make us feel alive, of cultivating moments in pursuit of meaning. Though not mutually exclusive with productive work, I find our habits increasingly blurring the lines between the two. What are these ‘goals’ that we claim to be working to achieve? Begin the day at 8A.M. sharp just to wait for 5.30P.M., when we pack our bags and leave the office; begin the week on Monday, just to countdown to Friday. How is it that this tool that potentially promises seamless planning when we take control, has come to control us in ways we fail to notice? We are always counting down for the ‘later’, at the expense of the ‘now’ – from the primary school lesson on ‘Time’ where we learned the hour hands from the minute hands, we began to unlearn the innate skill of just being.
This time a year ago, my days were shaped by study plans, revision lists, remedial classes and consultation appointments. They were checklists to tick off (literally) every single day and my every moment was governed by the ticking of the clock. The countdown to the next lecture was followed by the countdown to the time for consultations after the lecture – task after task, we almost completely abandoned our human need for rest. There were sleepless nights, then anxiety. In the night, I would hear the ticking of the second-hand on the clock hanging in the living room clear as crystal, almost resounding even. Then, graduating from junior college, there are giants of the working world trying to convince us that “time is money” and hence, “valuable”. We are ticking off that unspoken checklist of where you should be by a certain age, ticking as the clock does – the confusion about what is to be considered valuable persists. Must it be tangible to be valuable? Must it be done to count for something, or can we just be?
One year on, I am untraining the brain – may I value time by maximizing the potential for joy and life of every moment, rather than chasing after productivity.