There aren’t enough hours in the day. Have you ever run out of time? I know I have. We try to work harder and take fewer breaks, but there are still missed opportunities. We try to work smarter and multitask. That may help a little, but it feels like we just can’t get everything done. Maybe the answer is not in working harder, faster, or smarter.
The Crow is an action movie from the mid-1990s. Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, starred in the Crow. Bruce Lee was a martial arts icon who tragically died at the young age of 32. Brandon died during a filming accident in 1993, soon after he gave the above interview. He was only 28.
I enjoy action movies, but this blog post isn’t a film critique. It’s about the limits we face as humans, and ultimately limited time. The quote from the above video clip is from Paul Bowles’ book, The Sheltering Sky. Here is the quote. It is haunting.
“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.”
If we quantify the fullness of our lives, the number is not at all deep. It is quite shallow. Perhaps 10 dogs to enjoy as pets, or 70 trips to favorite vacation spot, or 15 more times to hear our parents tell a family story. We can’t add any greater number to these finite experiences.
How can we live more full lives? The solution is not to speed up and do more. The faster and harder we work, the more quickly these precious moments are lost. I am convinced that our lives become more full if we slow down and become more mindful of each moment, especially those moments that involve beautiful experiences and loved ones.
But, chores need to be completed, work responsibilities must be met, and I can’t ignore all the people in my life who demand my attention. What am I supposed to do differently? It would make things so much easier if there were a single solution that worked for all of us.
We do need to meet our responsibilities, and perhaps for some of us, we need to be more productive, while others of us need to do less. I don’t think the answer to this puzzle of limited time is in measuring how much we get done each day. Life is simply too brief and each of us leaves the world with an unfinished to do list.
We all need to be aware of the values that guide us. Family, faith, relationships, personal growth, professional success are examples of priorities which may rank very differently in the lives of individuals whose lifestyles may look similar to a third party. External measures of success, such as financial stability, quality of relationships, and career may appear to be identical.
The individual whose lifestyle reflects his or her values is likely to experience fulfillment. This is in contrast to an individual whose lifestyle is incongruent with his or her values and therefore likely to experience emptiness. It is up to each of us to order our values, priorities, and measures of success. More often than not, this will involve slowing down and being mindful of each precious experience in life.
None of us knows exactly how much time we have before death. Clarity of values and a lifestyle that is faithful to one’s values enables us to not focus so much on getting more done, but on being more fully present in each moment. When we are able to be more present in our relationships and mindful of the beauty around us, the precious time is no longer scarce. We can’t add to it, but we can experience it more deeply.