Lately, I’ve been contemplating the meaning of time.  Heavy thoughts for a lawyer, I know, but yes, I’ve been pondering, wondering and perhaps, one would say, even philosophizing. 

In recent weeks, I’ve noticed more and more that my time is spent planning or looking forward to certain events – upcoming travels, weekend plans or engagements, a show, a movie, Saturday morning market trips with a resulting feast of fresh seasonal eats.  Harkening back to a time when my sisters, Donna and I were all in the same place (much less the same continent), I was reminded of a conversation we had sparked by the question of whether you spend more time thinking about the past, the present or the future.  Somewhat predictably given our personalities, we all were resoundly in the “future” camp.

I think most people would agree that it is uncommon for a person to dwell in the past, nor is this a worthwhile endeavour.  That leaves the present and the future. So I began to ponder, what does it mean to think of and be in the present?  Is such a thing even possible? 

At work, I often scribble a to-do list in the morning to keep me on track through the day’s distractions (phone calls, emails, cyanide and happiness comics…).  Throughout the day, I meticulously tick off the list, feeling an indulgent sense of accomplishment in the act of ticking itself (if not in the act of completing the actual task). Outside of work, especially here–where our social calendars are a bit lighter than we’re accustomed to, our travel calendars much more exotic, and there’s always a festival on in Melbourne–I find myself always thinking about or planning the next big thing.  Travel planning has consumed much time: mapping out the best times of year to visit various corners of Australia, strategizing to maximize legal holidays and therefore squeeze more vacation time out of the year, and literally counting down the days in a “tag-your-it” email game until Leah’s visit in May.  Weekends are remarkably work free in Australia, and by mid-week I find myself contemplating a series of ways to spend every minute of what seems like a vast amount of time from Friday night to Monday morning…

 So, this pattern of behavior got me thinking…  If your life is composed primarily of a series of tick marks and to-dos accounted for and accomplished: are you nothing more than a glorified (human) Outlook calendar?  Can one really enjoy the present if the present is spent, at some level, conscious or unconscious, contemplating the next step?  What if your future-oriented thoughts are about the immediate future — does this count as a quasi-present state of mind?

And how to explain this forward-looking tendency?  Are genetics to blame: hundreds of years of evolutionary programming to encourage propagation of the species?  Is it a cultural thing, to reach for the American Dream as you compare yourself and your “accomplishments” to Average Joe and the lives of others around you? A fear of unpreparedness or lost opportunity? Obsessive compulsiveness? Law firm training to measure time and efficiency in 15-minute increments?

When the future plan and the present collide, can the present experience of  the event ever live up the anticipation that was built by the planning?

Although not necessarily convinced that a life in the future tense is a bad thing, I’ve embarked on a mission to live more in the present.  I’m looking forward to the challenge and mental discipline required to focus only on the immediate — the wisp of the wind on the back of my neck, refreshing and cool, but not cold; the smell of burning charcoal mixed with fresh cut grass wafting in from the neighbor’s down the street; the amusing contortions of the cat, trying to reach the last corners of sunshine filtering in from the window — and to be still and present in my thoughts. 

More about the success (or failure) of my mission to come…

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