Are We In Control of Our Time?

How do we know if time is well-spent, or if we're truly cherishing each moment we have left on Earth? Rabbi Rami Shapiro offers advice on whether we should care.

During my podcast conversation with Dr. Joel Bennett, author of The Connoisseur of Time, he spoke about how nothing happens unless the conditions for it happening are present. I found the idea true and intriguing. This is where it took me…

Since the ripening of present conditions depends on the ripening of past conditions, which in turn depend on the ripening of prior conditions, which in turn depend on the ripening of still prior conditions ad infinitum, there is no way I am in control of any of this. I am, in fact, just another happening ripening in the present moment because of an infinite number of happenings having ripened in prior moments.

Some people find this horribly depressing. I find it deeply comforting. I would like to claim that my feeling of comfort stems from my years of contemplative practice and the spiritual evolution that flows from such practice, but that would be silly. My practice happens each morning because the conditions for it happening made the fact of it happening inevitable, and any insights I may have gleaned from my practice were gleaned because the conditions for gleaning were such that gleaning happened, and in the world of spiritual awakening there is no evolution at all; there is just this moment and this moment and this moment in the unending flow of Consciousness.

This is what Ecclesiastes taught us 2200 years ago:

Life is the passing of moments:
Moments of birthing, moments of dying;
moments of planting, moments of uprooting;
moments of killing, moments of healing;
moments of knocking down, moments of building up;
moments of mourning, moments of dancing;
moments of casting stones, moments of gathering stones;
moments of embracing, moments of departing;
moments of seeking, moments of forsaking;
moments of keeping, moments of discarding;
moments of tearing, moments of mending;
moments of quieting, moments of talking;
moments of loving, moments of hating;
moments of warring, moments of peacemaking.

Moments and the passing of moments—this is life. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, my rendition)

Being a connoisseur of time, according to Dr. Bennett, is to relish each moment as it arises. I agree. Where we probably disagree, especially since he is teaching you how to become a connoisseur of time, is my sense that you cannot learn to be a connoisseur of time; you cannot will yourself to relish each moment. Relishing happens itself when the conditions for relishing are ripe, and you have no control over this ripening at all.

Depressing? I don’t think so. Here’s why:

If you think you can become a connoisseur of time, you will devote a lot of time to becoming a connoisseur of time. If I am correct that you cannot become a connoisseur of time, then all this wasted time will ripen into frustration and even self-loathing. But if you know from the beginning you cannot will yourself to become a connoisseur of time, then you will relax into whatever is ripening at the moment, and that relaxing into the moment will in and of itself ripen into a relishing of the moment and that is what it is to be a connoisseur of time. So, if Dr. Bennett is right and you can become a connoisseur of time—you win! If I am right and you cannot become a connoisseur of time—you win! Just don’t take any credit for winning because you had nothing to do with it. The simple truth is you can’t lose!

Listen to the podcast interview that inspired this essay here.

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