Big, Bad Father Time: The Anxiety of Passing Time

Words by Emily Fuller

Do you ever find yourself bound by the endlessly spinning wheel of anxiety when it comes to time management – making you dizzier and dizzier as you try to grapple with the looming feeling that you never have enough time? You justify it by contending that it’s completely necessary for organisation of your week – you need the structure, you need the routine. But there is a fine line between structure to your life, and being totally consumed by your anxiety of time. Recently I have caught myself slowly absorbing into that parallel existence where I fell through the avalanching sand of an hourglass. As the chaos of work and the Christmas period ensued after I landed back in Australia after 4 months of travelling and me-time, I dove head-first back into my everyday life. I was triple-checking my work rosters weeks in advance, trying to find windows wherever I could to solidify plans with friends and family. I was micro-managing my weeks just to fit in everything I felt it was my duty to do, with the essence of time always lurking in the back of my consciousness. Every time I glanced over my shoulder, the fierce determination of time was gaining speed and I ran and ran and ran in order to beat the clock every day. Until, I burnt myself out – my body becoming a cicada shell of emptiness and impotence. I had lost the sparkle of enjoying my moments as they are in their most natural state as my mind was racing, always thinking of the next task I had to do. Days were lost to the tornado of my mind, whirring and blurring into each other whilst I marched on forward, forgetting to stop and smell the roses.

The more I think about our understanding of time, the more I realise how much of it is governed by fear, whether that be subconscious or not. Most of the universal fears perpetuated within the human condition are bound by the inevitable tick-tocking of the clock. Our stomachs somersault with dread at the thought of ageing, of our bodies withering away into an empty shell. We lay in bed at night, our bodies paralysed by the worries of the future, the what ifs. We worry if we are late for work, we feel guilt for wasting a morning lazily lying in bed. Ironically, we expend time unnecessarily worrying about utilising our time unwisely. Truth be told, we are utterly obsessed with time, letting it consume us day by day.

The thing is, clocks haven’t always been a permanent fixture within the expanse of human existence. I am fairly certain that no one has ever stumbled upon a Palaeolithic cave painting depicting someone donning a look of stress as they are late to their 9am yoga class. Before clocks came into existence, time was defined by the oh-so complex nature of two different times: day and night, or light and dark. Even when time-keeping methods were further explored in various civilisations, the duality of day and night remained absolutely central. After all, the Romans used daylight to study their sundials, and even the Egyptians relied on it to measure shadow-castings from their obelisks in order to assess the time of day. Pocket watches were not introduced until the 16th century – marking the beginnings of our obsession with keeping time. Samuel Pepys, a government official of England observes this upon him receiving a pocket watch in 1665. Whilst caught up in the shimmer of having freedom of access to information (this being access to time), Pepys learnt the brutal lesson in which he earns this newfound freedom at the expense of another. He proclaims;

“I cannot forbear carrying my watch in my hand in the coach all this afternoon, and seeing what o’clock it is one hundred times; and am apt to think with myself, how could I be so long without one; though I remember since, I had one, and found it a trouble, and resolved to carry one no more about me while I lived”.

So there you have it, even in the 17th century, those who had access to man-made notions of time were not too dissimilar from our own compulsive needs to check our phones or watches constantly. I think we are too absorbed in thinking of the numbers – the seconds and minutes and hours – rather than practicing awareness of the cyclical rounds of natural time. Maybe if we did, we wouldn’t be waking up because it is 7am, or wouldn’t be passing up an opportunity to enjoy a meal because it doesn’t conform to the numerical window that our society “accepts” as mealtimes. The hands of the clock have grasped a firm hold on our instincts. We have become servants, serving time rather than allowing time to serve us.

Now I’m left here pondering, where do we go from here? This obsession with time has taken its toll in consuming me these last few months. I know that it’s not a magic pill I can take to remedy overnight, rising the next morning with a squeaky clean outlook on my life and how I spend it day by day. But I am trying. I have realised that in today’s age, I am privileged to have more time than we have ever seen in human existence. Life-expectancy has more than doubled in the developing world within the last century. We have more time-saving technologies and devices than we could ever have imagined – say goodbye to letter-writing, hand-washing in rivers, and horse-drawn carts, as we have traded out for emailing, washing machines, and cars that can zip us off to wherever we need. I’m learning to be grateful for this freedom we have, now seeing the reality that we need to use the time we already have. Although you may feel as if there isn’t enough hours in the day, I think it’s more of an issue that we have an alarming overload of everything else in our lives, further perpetuating this anxiety and nervousness around time. So offload, declutter yourself of those commitments that don’t necessarily bring you joy (besides the necessities of course) – and just pause. Close your eyes, inhale the fresh air, wriggle your toes – see how every new moment becomes a beginning, if you are just aware of it? Time will inevitably pass, and with that we will grow old and return to the dust of the earth as Mother Nature intends – but what we do have control of is how we choose to appreciate our day by day living.

Art by Linsey Leemiska

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