Modern societies impose the tyranny of a scheduled life. Education is our first encounter with temporal enslavement and age segregation. We become subservient to timetables not of our own making. The temporal ground of the education system is mechanistic. The rhythm of our schooling is banal and unresponsive to personal experience. After education we enter another realm of temporal enslavement called productivity.
Inside the false urgencies of the business world, we learn to “manage” time to be a productive worker. We pride ourselves on getting things done quickly and efficiently. In this life, we are held hostage by a never-ending torrent of priorities, tasks, and to dos, once again, not of our own making. We fill our calendars in strategic ways, exhaust ourselves with intense schedules, and, strangely, equate success with excessive busyness and exhaustion.
The false hope of work-life balance is symptomatic of our temporal enslavement. Carving out “family time” or “quality time” is symptomatic of a collective malaise. We sacrifice that which we value the most under the pleasant guise of success. This is the heroic path of self-sacrifice. This is how we tell ourselves we are successful. And here, mired in productivity, is precisely how time passes us by.
As a tool to simplify work, the need for time management is obvious and necessary. Productivity is a remarkably facile idea. There is nothing magical about it. Being productive is an exercise in analysis. We establish our priorities, divide them into a sequence of tasks, and schedule their completion on a calendar. None of this is difficult. Still, we have produced mountains of books and training programs all promising to make you even more productive.
Retirement is not just freedom from employment, it is our extrication from temporal enslavement. And it is a tremendous shock to our sensibilities. Suddenly, as we move into old age, we reclaim time as our own in ways we have not known since early childhood. For some, this induces a state of shock. The feeling of having time is alien and frightening. The release from imposed systems of productivity means that we must turn and walk directly into the full force of our own life.
Sadly, even childhood is becoming lost in schedules. The freedom of time I experienced in my pre-school years seems to have vanished. Children today are subjected to schedules at younger ages. They need to be here. Then they need to be there. And back to here again. The potential shock waiting for them in retirement is formidable for they have never really learned to build a personal relationship with time. They are already the victims of productivity.
Time is the essence of the privilege of being alive. It is not just precious; it is a responsibility. Our time here is also uncertain, fragile, and brief. An individual life is a momentary temporal flicker inside the great flow of life.
Aging, not productivity, is our most intimate connection to time. Aging is the embodiment of time. It is our authentic temporal habitat. The directly felt experience of time is raw, feral, and wild – never dull, mechanical, and linear. We inhabit the past and future inside the only element of time we can ever lay claim to – the present moment. And we know, with absolute certainty, that the present moment will, one day, be extinguished and we will disappear back into the mystery from which we came.
And here we come to the essence of the conflict. Productivity is void of philosophy and, as such, is a form mindlessness. It confines the human imagination to competitive modes of survival that typify industrialized work environments churning out products and services as an end unto itself.
Aging, in contrast, immersed body, mind, and spirit in the directly felt experience of time moving through flesh. It advises us that time is an animating force of life that cannot be conveniently captured, tamed, and confined to the mathematical tyranny of clocks and calendars.
Of course, survival in society demands skill with productivity. Being productive is a requirement of successful participation in society. The alternative is to live on the margins. However, don’t be blind-sided by the productivity gurus who take too long to say too little.
Thinking about productivity is the best way to become unproductive.
But more than this…
Preserve the directly felt experience of time in your spirit. Remember that the true habitat of time is already within. It will always remain loyal to you, even when you forget it exists. And it will always carry you back to the mystery from which you came.