Seize the Day
Within a short time, those of us who are young today will have become old, and those of us who are now old people will be here no more. Tempus fugit, the ancients said – time flies. It’s even been proved that our perception of time passing speeds up as we get older – because each passing hour represents a smaller fragment of all our hours past.
The clock is ticking for us all; time marches inexorably on, taking us with it. Each tick should remind us that we are a second nearer to the last day of our lives. Stop and listen: the message is loud and clear. We are here in this human body to turn our face from the world towards the Master in meditation every day, and go home with him to Sach Khand at the end of this life. Each tick of the clock is telling us we haven’t much time left to do this. We have to make every day count.
A verse from a childhood poem called The Way to be Happy is a reminder of how important it is to give focused thought to how we spend each day. It says:
How pleasant it is at the end of the day,
No follies to have to repent;
But reflect on the past and be able to say,
My time has been properly spent!
Ann Taylor, Original Poems for Infant Minds
The message is simple – for each day, we have only one chance to choose how we spend our time so that we can end the day contented. We cannot put time into a box and save it to use later. Once past, we cannot ask for a day back so that we can rewrite it and present a perfect page to our teacher. There is no ‘restore’ button to let us start the day again, deleting the thoughtless errors of our previous attempt.
Our time is not properly spent unless we attend to our real work: the two-and-a-half hours of daily meditation, which we promised on the day of our initiation. We are given only one day at a time to do this. There is nothing we can do about days past or in the future, but we can take action that affects the present day.
The present day is all-important. In Anam Ċara, the book of Celtic spiritual wisdom by John O’Donohue, there is a perceptive description of the short time we have in a day:
You are so knitted into a day. You are within it; the day is as close as your skin. It is around your eyes; it is inside your mind. The day moves you, often it can weigh you down; or again it can raise you up. Yet the amazing fact is: this day vanishes. When you look behind you, you do not see your past standing there in a series of day shapes. You cannot wander back through the gallery of your past. Your days have disappeared silently and for ever. Your future time has not arrived yet. The only ground of time is the present moment.
Seize the day – use it or lose it forever. Maharaj Jagat Singh reminds us of the importance of using our limited time for our real work in The Science of the Soul. He says: “Life is short. Time is fleeting. Take full advantage of it, and if you have not done ‘your own work’ already, start doing it now.” Time is something we cannot control or even fully understand. It is the indefinite, continued progress of existence and events. The arrow of time points from past to future; it only runs in one direction and cannot be reversed or stopped. Although it is a construct, it is a force of creation like the seasons, day and night, and the weather.
Experts on time management say it is impossible to manage time; we can only manage ourselves. We are all given the same measure of time in our day; the crux is how we choose to use it. We have to manage our choices, not our time.
Many of us blame time for our laziness: “It’s not my fault – I didn’t have time” or “Time ran away from me!” Although it’s true that the time we have is short and fleeting, what matters is what we make of it. Time likes priorities, and it is well within everyone’s capabilities to decide our own priorities for this one day.
We are not in this life to pursue fame and fortune, or to seek fulfilment in human relationships or transient pleasures. It could all disappear tomorrow. As the Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius says in Meditations: “Every instant of time is a pinprick of eternity. All things are petty, easily changed, vanishing away.”
We are here to strive for something lasting – to merge with our Creator and never to return. We have been given the means to do this, and it should be our first priority in each day we are given. How ashamed and sad we should be at the end of a day, if we have wasted this treasure. Each new day offers the chance to leave behind the hopelessness of failed good intentions and start anew, as described by A.E. Housman:
Today I shall be strong,
No more shall yield to wrong,
Shall squander life no more;
Days lost, I know not how,
I shall retrieve them now;
Now I shall keep the vow
I never kept before.
Collected Poems of A.E. Housman