Waiting Time? Or Wasting Time?

Endless Time

The abstract concept we call time is a funny thing.

We all know what it is. We all struggle to define, explain and actually understand it.

The same applies to the idea of wasting time. We experience it, but often can’t really describe it.

That’s why this excerpt from an article on ‘Mind Pickings‘ about waiting, with quotes from Jason Farman‘s book, caught my eye:

“Waiting points to our desires and hopes for the future; and while that future may never arrive and our hopes may never be fulfilled, the act of reflecting on waiting teaches us about ourselves. The meaning of life isn’t deferred until that thing we hope for arrives; instead, in the moment of waiting, meaning is located in our ability to recognize the ways that such hopes define us.”

Jason Farman, in ‘Delayed Response

And it embarked upon an intriguing explanation about the concept of time itself.

When we think of time as distinct and belonging to each of us, we tend to view ‘waiting‘ as an ‘expense‘. If you’re late to a meeting with me, you’re not using YOUR time efficiently, and thereby wasting MY time. That’s annoying.

But what if we thought of our time as being inextricably woven together and collectively shared? Does the same principle of “you wasting my time” still apply?

“If we shift perspectives and see our time as intertwined with one another’s, then we are all investing our time in other people’s circumstances.”

Jason Farman, in ‘Delayed Response

And then, he highlights the point using a familiar, oft-cited example – waiting behind a slow customer in a supermarket check out line.

When an elderly lady fumbles with her purse and holds up everyone behind her, it’s almost a reflex to get annoyed, even angry. But when you realize she’s struggling to find enough food stamps or coupons to help her afford the minimum necessities to survive, you undergo an instant shift in perspective.

All of a sudden, “we can come to understand wait time as an investment in the social fabric that connects us.”

This also brought to mind a part of David Foster Wallace‘s famous “This Is Water” lecture.

“Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.”

David Foster Wallace, in ‘This Is Water’

Wallace goes on to detail a typical end-of-a-busy-and-frustrating day’s experience, which includes (once again!) being stuck in a check out queue – and then he intuits this:

“The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing comes in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m going to be pissed and miserable every time I have to food-shop, because my natural default-setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about ME, about MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home and it’s going to seem, for all the world, like everybody else is just in my way… Look, if I choose to think this way, fine, lots of us do — except that thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic it doesn’t have to be a choice. Thinking this way is my natural default-setting. It’s the automatic, unconscious way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life.”

from ‘This Is Water’

So CHOOSING how to experience, view and think about WAITING (or other ‘wasted’ time) matters.

With an effort, it’s possible to flip this around – and think about the same situation differently.

“It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars — compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things.”

D.F.Wallace, in ‘This Is Water’

Once again, by imagining time as irretrievably interwoven and shared among all people, collectively.

And this reminded me of another compelling interpretation of time, by David Deutsch in his amazing “The Fabric of Reality“. He conceptualizes ‘moving’ time as a series of momentary snapshots – which, as they follow each other in rapid fire sequence, create an illusory ‘movement’ or ‘passage’ of time.

The ‘information’ content of each snapshot is constant. The ‘interpretative’ component can be adjusted, based on how you view time, its connectedness, its meaning to you and others… “in the moment of waiting“.

By that shift, you alter the ‘future’ – not by reshuffling the deck of cards, but by changing what’s written on one or more of them.

Create meaning for life, as you live it.

And thereby, stop wasting time.

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