We all have a relationship with time. When time runs slower than we would like, we get bored or impatient. When time runs faster than we would like, we get anxious or fearful.
A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT
Imagine that you live inside a car, and that you have no control over the driving. Eventually, you are told, your car will hit a wall, and the journey will come to an end. The only thing you have control over, is your conduct inside that car.
What you might find, is this. On some days, when you will feel that the car will not hit the wall for a long time, you will relax, and maybe fall asleep. Your bodily system will run slower. You will find things to do to pass the time.
On other days, when you feel that hitting the wall is imminent, you will find your stomach churning. You will become anxious, and feel constantly on guard. It will be difficult to concentrate properly on anything going on inside the car, because you are focused on the possibility of hitting that wall.
THE MEANING OF THE THOUGHT EXPERIMENT
In fact, your situation is exactly this. You are trapped inside a bodily existence, and eventually you will hit the limit of that body’s capability to stay alive. The only thing you have control over, is your conduct while inside that body.
On some days, when you feel there is time to spare, you will relax and pass the time. You may even invent activities to stop yourself getting too bored or lonely. On other days, when you feel that your survival is under threat, you may find yourself becoming anxious, over-attentive, distracted.
In addition, sometimes your body cannot tell the difference between the end of your life, and other endings. Potentially, any impending loss can trigger an attack of panic or anxiety. For some people, financial losses can trigger a sense of death; for others, relationship threats feel like death. And for some, who have been overexposed to loss and damage, a kind of post-traumatic stress can bring a constant over-alertness to possible loss, a persistent sense of dread and anxiety.
In this way, just dropping and breaking a china cup can trigger a panic reaction in some. The world has proved unreliable, and the scent of loss brings back all the loss there ever was.
A WAY OF HANDLING CONSTANT EXISTENTIAL THREAT
You may have noticed that at the beginning of this article I suggested that we all have a relationship with time. In other words, yes there are external events, but there is also our personal response to events. Yes there are losses, but there is also our personal response to losses.
If you notice yourself constantly worrying about this and that, then it may be worth contemplating just what life would have to do to make you happy. Put another way, what change in your relationship with life would lessen your anxiety and increase your happiness?
There are two main ways of handling this dilemma. Firstly, we can try to arrange life so that losses never happen. This is going to be hard. No insurance in the world can mitigate every loss and leave us in an unchanged position.
Secondly, we can try to arrange ourselves so that we can accept anything. The things we call losses will still happen. But if we can teach our bodies to remain peaceful, then those experiences will eventually not seem like losses.
BACK TO THE CAR
Going back to our car analogy: remember, we are all stuck inside a car that is bound to hit a wall in the end. If we can teach our body to accept this, then eventually it will not matter exactly when the event happens. It will not panic us, because it is something we have accepted.
This is the reason for meditating on acceptance. We are training our minds and bodies to accept all the suffering and loss in the world, (including our own,) and to simply breathe it in. Then we are training our minds and bodies to live in the wisdom that loss exists (including our own), and to simply breathe that wisdom out, mixed with compassion. The better we get at this meditation, the happier we can become ourselves.
By this method, we may not remove our circumstances, but we will teach ourselves to be better at living within them. We will become like a content passenger inside that car.
We all have a relationship with time. In particular, when we feel loss or endings are imminent, we become anxious.
Participating in life is like being a passenger inside a car that, one day, is guaranteed to hit a wall. When we experience that collision as imminent, we may tense up in panic.
We can’t remove the inevitability of endings. But we can teach our mind to accept that they are inevitable. The better we get at this, the happier we can be, whatever our circumstances.