“The future bears down upon each one of us with all the hazards of the unknown. The only way out is through.” – Plutarch
There is an interesting interplay between our will and the flow of time. We have moments of genius and empowerment, where our will extends beautifully into the world. We envision, we create, we sculpt. We experience exhilaration when there is an outward manifestation of the self.
Then there are other, less-glamorous moments: driving in traffic. Being bored at work. Absorbing the impact of our own frustration, impatience, disappointment, and the ‘negative’ emotional experiences of life. While some thinkers extol the power of positivity, it still seems we all have to contend with the ups and downs of life. As Plutarch said, “The only way out is through.”
But how can we best move through time? Are there ‘timeless’ skills that will allow us to navigate, or even momentarily transcend, the confines of our day-to-day? When we find ourselves stuck at the supermarket in a funk – is there way to become ‘un-stuck’?
These are skills that may help us to handle the river of time, but their power does not derive from temporal issues; their power derives from a sense of timelessness. In a way, all of these skills are reflections of that eternal quality in ourselves and the world, and are different nuanced facets of the same cosmic whole.
Gentleness. We often use force in order to produce an immediate outcome. If a physical object is stuck or if someone is upset, we often look for a single, energy-loaded action which will correct the situation. Gentleness, however, does not seek an immediate outcome. It applies moderate, concerted effort over a longer period of time. It allows awareness to arise in both the subject and object of the action. It can be deeply non-violent in how it operates.
Through a gentle process, there is often a resolution with no discernible confrontation – problems may effortlessly resolve in a sort of impersonal surrender to time. We must however be open to this surrender in order to effect gentleness. We must relinquish a sense of control for gentleness to occur; we must become co-operatives with time. This broader vision of effect over time can provide a sense of the timeless, allowing us to transcend the harsh narrowness of the moment.
Patience. Exercising patience is like cutting the leash that binds our emotional wellbeing to the fickle timeline of life’s activities. In this way, patience is like a bona fide superpower. When something is too fast, too slow, or otherwise not how we would like it to be, patience is a healthy and refined sense of distance which allows us to observe and understand while retaining a sense of inner harmony. In some ways, patience, more than any other attribute, signifies an immediate and irrevocable liberation from the frustrations and doldrums of daily life.
Trust. This is one of the most complicated and nuanced of human attributes. A sociologist may relate trust to ‘social capital’, the fundamental currency of community, or “social networks and the norms reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.”1 However, there is a broader sense of trust that one can have in reality and in the cosmos.
One might define trust, in a spiritual sense, as a willingness to see everything as being fundamentally okay in its eventuality. Can we say with certainty that things will be all right in the fullness of time? In way, it is impossible to say, because it is beyond the scope of our comprehension. So, trust may emerge as a sense of fraternity with life itself – the feeling or sense that reality is a kin to ourselves, and just as we have at our core a compassionate desire for things to be ultimately peaceful, complete, and resolved, we can nurture a sense that life, too, is like this.
Acceptance. Rather than fostering inner turmoil about the conditions of our life and our world, we can use acceptance to pull these affairs into our intimate personal space, both acknowledging and affirming their right to exist as they are. This can be difficult and painful to do in an authentic way – for example, when accepting a tragic or difficult event, or a cruel or inhumane reality.
However, in the intimate space of acceptance, we may find that a sense of meaning, as a spontaneous and creative personal effect, flows along the contours of this reality like a heavenly water. By accepting our lives more fully, we are able to experience them more fully and begin to engage them with more of our human attributes. In this fuller experience we have an enriched relationship with life, which generates a renewed and ongoing sense of meaning. Once we have accepted our real present moment, we can begin to envision and plan for a better future; which calls to mind Nietzsche’s famous maxim: “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.”
Ultimately, each of us has an individual journey through the confines of time, although we all have a universal need to occasionally transcend its tightness and pressure. In a humbling and potent example, upon being released from the Auschwitz concentration camp, Austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl reflected on this powerful need: “I called to the Lord from my narrow prison and He answered me in the freedom of space.”2
- Putnam, Robert D.. Bowling Alone (p. 19). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
- Frankl, Viktor E.. Man’s Search for Meaning (p. 89). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.