Read an Excerpt
This book is addressed to everyone who is starved for time. That is, it is addressed to everyone. We are all living in a culture that traps us into doing too many things, taking on too many responsibilities, facing too many choices and saying yes to too many opportunities. Nearing the end of over a century of inventions designed to save time, we find ourselves bereft of time itself. As Jeremy Rifkin has pointed out, "we have surrounded ourselves with time-saving technological gadgetry, only to be overwhelmed by plans that cannot be carried out, appointments that cannot be honored, schedules that cannot be fulfilled, and deadlines that cannot be met." It is the new poverty, the poverty of our affluence. It is our famine, the famine of a culture that has chosen things over time, the external world over the inner world.
It has become the aching question of our era. What used to be considered a sign of success--being busy, having many responsibilities, being involved in many projects or activities--is now being felt as an affliction. It is leading us nowhere. More and more it is being experienced as meaningless.
This is the real significance of our problem with time. It is a crisis of meaning. What has disappeared is meaningful time. It is not technology or the accelerating influence of money; it is not global capitalism that is responsible for the time famine. The root of our modern problem with time is neither technological, sociological, economic nor psychological. It is metaphysical. It is a question of the meaning of human life itself. The aim of this book is to uncover the link between our pathology of time and the eternal mystery of whata human being is meant to be in the universal scheme of things. The wisdom teachings of the world, each in its own way, have spoken of what we may call the soul, the spirit, the timeless, the eternal in man. But the challenge is to approach these ancient ideas in a way that is practical, that can actually lead us toward a solution of our problem. Words alone, no matter how sacred; ideas alone, no matter how profound, are not enough to help us confront our problem with time. But words, properly received; ideas, thoughtfully pondered; stories and images heard and attended to with an open heart, can help us feel the relationship between the question of our being and the problem of our life in time, after which ideas can find their proper place in our minds. In any case, this is how I have written this book. A story and an image can enter our psyche in a way that concepts and analyses cannot. And so this examination of time and the human soul should perhaps begin, as all true stories begin, with the suddenly pregnant phrase:
"Once upon a time . . ."
From Fiction to Reality
There is a life I wish to live. It is not a life with different events or different people than make up the life I am now living. It is not a life where things have come out differently, with fewer defeats or greater triumphs. It is not a life with fewer mistakes. No. It is this life, my actual life. It is this life that I wish to live, the same life I am living, but with one great difference: a difference in the experience of time.
The fact is that I am not now living my life--it is living me. I am not--as used to be said--conducting my affairs; they are conducting me, driving me. And with ever increasing acceleration and tempo.
The Time Famine
I am having dinner with a brilliant and devoted doctor. He is well known for having introduced revolutionary patient-care procedures in one of the country's most prestigious medical centers. When I remark about the success of his work and ask about its future, his dark eyes suddenly well up with tears! Is he becoming emotional because of the deep feeling he has for his work or his patients? Not exactly. He puts down his cup and in an unsteady voice that is part desperation and part anger he says:
"I have no time."
I nod sympathetically. But he goes on:
"You don't understand. I have no time! I am pathologically busy. It's beyond anything I have ever imagined. I can't give anything the attention it needs. I can't do anything well. I wake up in the middle of the night on the verge of a breakdown. And more and more people depend on me. More and more things, good things, important things, keep coming to me. Any one of them is worth the whole of my attention and needs my time. But ten, twenty of them? A hundred of them? And it is the same with my staff. They are all being driven past their limits. . . ."
My friend keeps talking, talking. I cannot find a moment to break in to say, "Yes, I understand. It's the same with me."
Here is an old friend of mine who runs an art gallery in Vancouver. I have always admired his attitude toward life's difficulties and losses. He has invariably met them with an extraordinary composure. It has been less than six months since I last saw him, yet now, as we are just beginning to greet each other and ask about each other's well-being, he speaks with completely uncharacteristic anxiety. "I feel I have sold my soul to the devil," he says. "I really must calm down. I have to stop traveling around so much. Doing so much. I really can't bear what is happening."
This man is what the world would consider an exceptionally strong, balanced human being, as is the doctor I just quoted. I could cite countless other examples--men, women, children! Rich, poor, middle class. In America, Europe, Asia, Africa. I am not speaking of fragile people, of people without what passes for will power, education, depth of mind and heart. I am not speaking of people consumed by personal ambition, or of people who seek mainly to make money or become more "effective." I am speaking, I believe, of some of the most devoted and talented people in our society--extremely able people who care greatly for others and who willingly sacrifice their own immediate good for the benefit of others. And I am speaking of people who, underneath it all, are searching for Truth, the Truth that transcends what the world offers as wealth, safety and virtue. Many of them are followers of one or another spiritual practice, many of them are not. But it is safe to say that none of them really believes in the world as it presents itself; it is safe to say that all of them suspect, suspect . . . that there exists a great secret behind the appearances of our world, and that there exists a great secret beyond the appearances of themselves. It is not only the tempo of their lives that is driving them mad, it is the sense that they are not living their lives. With all the best intentions in the world, and with all the best efforts that they can muster, still they have been drawn, they do not know how, into an unreal life. It is not their own life they are living.
This is not my life. How did this happen? What does it mean? Is it possible that time has become what it has only because our lives are submerged in lies?