There is No Such Thing as Wasted Time

During the COVID lockdowns, my daughter, who was once again living at home, said she was thinking about dropping her college physics class.

It was hard, she said, to learn physics remotely. She thought if she tried again the following semester when she could learn in person, that would be better.

That made sense to me. She seemed to know, intuitively, what would be best for her. But she considered plodding along, even if it meant a poor grade, even if it meant she didn’t grasp the material.

What was holding her back from making what was probably a good decision for herself?

“But if I quit, these last few weeks will have been wasted time,” she argued.

“How is that possible?” I asked her. “Don’t you have to learn this material one way or another?”

“Well, yeah,” she answered.

“Okay then. And anyway, there’s no such thing as wasted time.”

While I can’t deny I’ve played a role, unconsciously, in passing down the belief of being able to waste time, it seems to me it has grown on my daughter since she’s been off on her own. She, like much of society, believes that each moment of life is supposed to be capitalized on, each quarter hour maximized to its fullest. In our culture, we watch time, organize time, reclaim time, schedule time, try to save time, and, of course, try not to waste time.

There was a time (hah) on this planet before time, a time when we flowed through the cycles of life with ease and naturalness. A time when we ate when we were hungry, slept when we were tired, worked when we had energy. We ruled over ourselves.

But these days, time rules over us.

“Each of us knows when it’s time to wake, eat and rest. We don’t need to read a clock for these activities; we need to listen.”
― Gina Greenlee, Postcards and Pearls: Life Lessons from Solo Moments on the Road

But, you might argue, aren’t we wasting time when we’re just zoning out or daydreaming? Or sitting in traffic? Or returning to the grocery store because we forgot an ingredient?

Well, there might not be such a thing as wasting time, but there is certainly such a thing as mindlessness. And that’s what’s really happening when we’re talking about wasted time. Going through the motions without any real sense of presence or delight. Without any opportunity to be surprised. Living under the regime of time keeps us chasing, forward-marches us through our lives to a drumbeat that not only isn’t our own, it isn’t even real.

The idea that time can be wasted is a fallacy. But the guilt, shame, stress, and frustration associated with this are very real.

But remember this: our world—and human beings—existed before time. Well, at least before the kind of time we’re most familiar talking about here: Chronos time.

Chronos time

Chronos time is the calendar, the clock, the hours, days, months, and years that pass by. Chronos time is measured in quantity.

This time is horizontal in nature — a straight line from birth to death and then nothing but a void. There is no connection between the past and the future as they never touch or connect. One thing has little to do with the other. Synchronicities such as meeting people we’re certain we’ve met before, hearing the same song over and over again, or calling an old friend at the same time they were thinking of calling us are not explored but are brushed aside as “coincidence.”

We believe this kind of time can be wasted, spent, saved, rushed, squandered. “Chronos” is the root of the word “chronological.” It refers to things that have a certain predictableness about them. Moments are repeated, and we can’t always tell one year from the next.

Chronos time is nothing but a human-made construct. It’s made up. How can we waste something imaginary? For that matter, how can we save it?

If you think about it, our strange beliefs about time — that it can be wasted, saved, lost, spent — never lead to more fulfillment or joy. Rather, our belief in wasted time keeps us from feeling all the feels of being human. It’s a whip that keeps us constantly moving, never stopping to think, feel, or reflect.

Somewhere inside us, we know this. We remember a different kind of time. We know that if we stop nurturing our toxic relationship with time, we’re going to start feeling things again. Maybe that’s why we’re hesitant to give it up. But if we are willing to try, we can experience something much more sacred: kairos time.

Kairos time

“but BEing time is never wasted time. When we are BEing, not only are we collaborating with chronological time, but we are touching on kairos, and are freed from the normal restrictions of time.”
― Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

Kairos time is the time of the heavens and the gods. Kairos time is vertical, as opposed to horizontal, and it is about surprise, circular timelines, and the quality of a moment.

Michael Meade says that Kairos time is what happens when Chronos time “breaks open.” When normal time stops and eternal time washes over us. When we visit Kairos time, we return to the place of our origins and from where all things are once again possible.

From the perspective of Kairos time, all time is one. The past, the present, and the future are undivided and whole. Thus, we have access to everything — the past, the present, the future.

In Kairos time, we have access to our ancestors and their messages for us. We have access to our soul’s journey through eternity. And, of course, we have access to our past, and likely even future lives.

Everything we’ve experienced, both individually and collectively, is available to us in Kairos time. When we step into the waters of Kairos time, we see the waters of our past and future swirling around our feet.

There is nothing here to waste; this is an abundant, ever-flowing source.

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