Replace One Word and Have the Greatest Life of Your Time

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Yes, the title is correct. I meant to say “the life of your time”—not “the time of your life”.  By the time you get to the end of this article, you may be saying it, too. Can playing around with two words in your vocabulary help you change your view on life? Yes, it can.  Read on to see how this minor change in perspective can improve your life in a major way.

Several years ago, I was conducting a class at a local YMCA on goal-setting and time management. At the end of the class, while I was gathering my belongings, a lady approached me and taught me something about the concept of time that I’ve used and cherished to this day. Toward the end of our brief conversation, she mentioned that she was from Australia and that her grandparents were aboriginal Australians.She explained that the aborigines do not have a concept for time (nor time management),and, instead, they use a concept that closely relates to the cycles of nature or the cycle of life: the past, present, and future are all rolled into one—the eternal present moment. 

I thanked her for the information and jokingly said that maybe we all should just stop using the word “time,” as it is so cold and impersonal, and use the word “life,” instead, since it is more personal and emotionally powerful. Life—that is what our “lifetime” is made of, and that is what seems to matter when we die.  We worry about how much life quality we’ve had on this planet—not how much time.  I told her that I will stop using that word for two weeks to see if I become more efficient and focused.  For a laugh, I closed with, “Well, thank you for coming and giving me an hour of your LIFE. I hope that you had a great LIFE in the class. Now, go out there and be more efficient with your precious LIFE. Try not to waste any LIFE on unimportant things.”

To my surprise, after staring at me for a few seconds with a very serious and intense look, she yelled out, “That’s it! That makes total sense! It’s Life—not time—that is real! That’s what we humans actually experience. They were right: that’s what all this is made of, so I just have to stop using it! That’s the answer! Thank you!” She proceeded to write something in her notebook, shook my hand, and left.  I was puzzled by what she meant and actually felt a bit disappointed that she had not realized that I was joking.

On the drive home, however, I was thinking about what she had said and wondering what had clicked for her so suddenly. What did she mean by, “It’s Life—not time—that is real! They were right: that’s what all this is made of.” What were the aborigines right about? That evening, I spent some time researching their concepts of life and time.  It was so different from what I was used to, yet so fascinating.  We see our lives as an external concept.  We feel that our lives are made up of these chunks of time. In fact, we do call it “lifetime.” We run our lives by the clock. We measure it by minutes, days, weeks and years. We say I had a good day. I had a good time. I had a good week. The Aborigines, however, see “time” as an eternal, stationary, and changeless moment (many eastern philosophies have a very similar view; in fact, even science is starting to validate this view).  The only reality is this present moment. It’s the infinite NOW. The past and the future are all rolled into this moment.

Time is not moving—we are.  Our life experiences are what continue to change and influence that one motionless moment.  Imagine an empty canvas in front of you: it’s the eternal present moment—forever white, clear, pure, and present. The images that are being painted on it are your thoughts, beliefs, and experiences.  The canvas does not move or change. It simply shows you what you’ve painted on it at this moment, without any influence or bias.  Time is the same for all of us. An hour is the same for you and I. What we put into that hour and how we experience it is unique for each of us.

I spent the next few days thinking about that concept of time and how I was using it in my daily life. I wondered if I, too, could reduce the importance of time and instead focus more on my experiences. I even began to replace the word “time” with “life,” whenever it made sense, as I had jokingly promised that lady. “This is my work time” became “this is my work life”.  “Sunday is my quality time with the family” became “quality life with the family”. Break time became break life. TV time became TV life. I am sorry, but I do not have life for that request. You are wasting my life. I want to spend some of my life on this project. I will give you more of my life tomorrow. And so on.

Slowly, in a matter days, I began to view my life not in terms of time units (minutes, hours, days, weeks, etc.) but rather life or experience units (good, bad, happy sad, wasted, productive, useful, etc.).  I became more aware of how I was spending my life on a daily basis. My habits came into sharper focus.  My life became more precious.  I became mindful of my actions and goals. I became conscious of what I was painting on my canvas of time.

Your time and your life are one and the same.  Psychologically and emotionally, though, the words “My time” and “My Life” have different feelings. They have slightly different emotional impact.  I just wasted two hours of my time vs. I just wasted two units of my life. Somehow, the latter feels worse. I enjoyed my time with you vs. I enjoyed my life with you. “How will you spend your time today?” has a lesser urgency than asking, “How will you spend your life today?”.

I can say that I am pretty sure that I will get another 24 hours tomorrow. How will I spend that time?  What will I do with them? How do I plan them?  But, are these the right questions to ask? Instead, imagine if you had no clue what time was, and you began every day with 24 empty life experience units. The questions now are slightly different.  What kind of experience will you have in each?  What do you want to create in them?  What would you like to “Paint” on them? Should you  give them away to someone else in exchange for something? or share them with someone you like? Will you hand over the brush to someone else? In other words, what kind of picture would you like to draw or paint on that 24-section canvas? When you change your perspective from Time to Life Experiences, things become more internalized.  You begin to see each day as something to be created beautifully or experienced well—rather than spent efficiently.

I think this is what that lady in my class suddenly discovered: that, in reality, there is only one present moment. That empty white canvas. It’s the eternal now that we continue to paint on with our experience brush.  With our thoughts, beliefs, and experiences, we are constantly redrawing the picture of our life at this moment.  Some continue to draw the same picture over and over again, and it becomes the extent of that person’s life. Some give up control of the brush and allow others—or even circumstances—to paint the picture of their life experiences. Others continue to wipe the canvas clean and draw better and better pictures each day—learning from the previous experiences.  That is what she suddenly understood when she said, “It’s Life—not time—that is real! They were right: that’s what all this is made of.”  It’s the act of painting that is important not the canvas. Life is not made up of our minutes, days, hours, and years.  It is made of these experiences that we keep drawing on the canvas of our present moment.  Luckily, we hold the brush. We decide what we are going to draw or paint, regardless of what difficulties and challenges we faced before—regardless of what the world outside may look like. We can create a new painting everyday.

Maybe this is why people say that, just before you die, you will instantly experience your entire life and everything that has ever happened to you; years and years of creating experiences in an instant; one last NOW moment. .Your whole life will “flash in front of your eyes.” Is it possible that, when you let go of everything (including time), you will finally see, feel, and experience that eternal present moment as it should be experienced?  Maybe, you are simply taking one last look at the final version of your life’s painting or all the paintings that have been drawn on that canvas all at once.

I challenge you to replace the word “time” with “life” for two weeks and see how you feel. Use the word “life”or “experience” more often in your conversations, in your thoughts, and in the way you see and plan your daily activities. You may notice that, by the end of two weeks, you’ve become more focused and aware of your daily routine and your habits. You may even become more careful and mindful of how you plan to spend (or paint) your precious life from that point on. You may look at yourself, the world around you, and this present moment a bit differently. Those two weeks may help you discover that, while others are busy trying to figure out how to have the time of their lives, you are busy having the life of your time. And I hope that will make you happier.

“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years” – Abraham Lincoln

Written for By Rafael Tomik

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