A New Year
Like birthdays, it’s a holiday that calls to mind and celebrates the passage of time.
Time — that which is both infinite and limited. Quite the paradox.
On one hand, time is the indefinite progression of existence, an intricate tangle of events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.
On the other, it’s an hourglass filled with sand, a constant reminder of how little of it we actually have. An unknown amount, always slipping away.
It’s this aspect of time which gives our lives a sense of urgency–a sense we are sometimes oblivious to.
However, many elderly people, terminally ill people, and those who are truly wise come to a point in their lives when they truly grasp the fragility of time. They are keenly aware that any day could be their last.
Nevertheless, they choose not to make that a negative focus. Instead, time becomes the new lens through which they see the world. Every experience becomes that much richer and sweeter because it may be their last.
This point is beautifully illustrated through the story of a 93 year old painter named John (from the book, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die by John Izzo).
During an interview with Dr. Izzo, John explains,
“I like to tell people that I am almost 94 much as a child might say they are almost eight, because ever since I turned 90 I have this great appreciation for each day…
When you get to be my age, you are always wondering how long you will live. I have great grand-daughters eight and six, so I wonder, up until what age will I live to see them?”
“Now when I see a beautiful sunset or a beautiful performance at the ballet I cry. I cry not only because it is beautiful, but because I don’t know how many more I will get to see.
When you are young, they tell you to live in the moment, but you are not sure what that means. Now I know, and it is true at every age, we never know how many more we are going to get to see, so it is important to appreciate each one and each moment as if it might be your last.”
A New Year
This is a time to reflect, a time to be be grateful for all that has passed. It’s a time to think about our successes, failures, and all that we’ve learned from them.
It’s an opportunity to think about our choices and the fact that they have brought us to exactly where we are today.
It’s also a celebration of hope for the future. With a new year comes a sense of a new beginning. A chance to start fresh.
Just as our past choices have shaped who we are, the choices we make today are shaping who we’ll become in the future.
After all, isn’t this why we make New Year’s resolutions? We know there are some aspects of our lives in which we are capable of more. We are filled with bright hopes for the changes we want in our lives.
At the beginning of each new year we tell ourselves,
“This year I will finally get in shape.”
“This year I will quit smoking.”
“This year I will get out of debt.”
“This year I will organize my life.”
“This year I will spend more time with family and friends.”
“This year I will spend more time pursuing my passion.”
So why is it, that with all of this bright hope and newly found determination, our resolutions typically fall by the wayside after only a few months or even weeks?
Experts say it’s because we fail to anticipate obstacles to making significant changes.
Obstacles such as:
1) Deeply ingrained habits,
2) Negative emotions that can arise when we try to implement changes, like fear, anger, doubt, and frustration,
3) Our environment–the people we surround ourselves with, the work we do, and the activities we participate in.
While I think there is certainly a lot of merit in these points, I believe there’s a more important point that has been overlooked.
Our respect for time. We begin to lose it and take time for granted. We lose sight of the beauty of the moment. We believe there is always tomorrow.
When we fail to honor time, what happens?
We become too busy. We fill our time with so much business and activity that we hardly have time to truly think about anything.
We just do, do, do without much thought about why we’re really doing it and where all this doing is really taking us.
We’re suddenly too busy to stick to our resolutions and begin to make excuses about them.
As I’ve heard Matthew Kelly, public speaker and author of The Rhythm of Life, say several times,
“It begs the question, doesn’t it? What are we all too busy doing?
For the most part, we are too busy doing just about everything that means just about nothing, to just about nobody, just about anywhere…and will mean even less to anyone a hundred years from now.”
In other words, are we really spending our time, our precious limited time, doing the the things we really want to do? The things we resolved to do? The things we find truly meaningful?
Or are we instead, filling our time with work and activities that drain us, keep us occupied, and fulfill someone else’s purpose for us?
And when we’re not wasting time being busy, we’re often flittering it away by laying around on the couch watching TV all day, staring blankly at a computer screen as we surf the web, or losing ourselves in the fantasy world of a good book.
Personally, I’m guilty of both of these–being too busy and wasting time.
Before I separated from the Air Force (a.k.a. quit my job to pursue a more meaningful life), I was often very busy. My time was filled with work, grad school, exercising, writing, and trying to make time for people I love and activities I enjoy.
On the outside everything probably looked great, and it often felt that way. But deep inside, something was missing.
As so many seem to be contemplating or doing these days, I left my job in search of a more purposeful and meaningful life.
Part of that search was my 30-day Himalaya Backpacking expedition. During my trip, time took on a whole new meaning. Every day and even every minute seemed to be filled with a sense of purpose.
Each footstep was designed to take us to where we needed to go. Each minute was spent fully engaged in planning, cooking, cleaning, learning, bonding, meditating, teaching, resting, and experiencing.
Not long after my return, I felt time slipping away from me again. I fell into a routine of sleeping in late, spending too much time alone, reading into the wee hours of the night, and ignoring my previous commitments and aspirations.
Something was once again missing. The sense of purpose that had been so solid in front of me had vanished. I guess you could say I fell into a sort of slump over the past month or so.
It’s not that I was depressed or even unhappy–just aimlessly drifting through time.
Before long, I was aware of what was going on, but it was like a hazy dream from which I could not wake. “Tomorrow,” I kept thinking, “I’ll get started tomorrow.”
You see, for the first time in my life, I am truly in control of how I spend my time. I don’t have a job I need to get to or homework that must be done. There’s only an infinite spread of things I would like to experience, accomplish, and contribute.
I know–poor me, right?
But it’s almost like I was an indoor cat that escaped through an open door into the backyard — I was suddenly paralyzed by the strangeness of this new freedom.
Finally, I feel ready to embrace it.
A New Year
Perhaps it’s the air of hope and renewal that comes rolling in with the New Year.
It’s grasping the sacred paradox of time–and honoring it.
It’s remembering why I started this blog in the first place. To get to know myself better. To discover what matters most, what I find truly meaningful, and to pursue it with a passion.
It’s recognizing the fleeting nature of time and the beauty it brings to every moment, if only we are present enough to recognize it.
So, as we embark on this New Year and dive into our resolutions, let’s not forget to pause and reflect, to appreciate the time that has past.
Let us honor the present by living consciously, by choosing to fill our time in meaningful ways.
Let us continue on the path of self-discovery as we explore what it means to truly experience life fully.
Be wise. Live life!
Image credit: jaci XIII