This line from Mary Oliver’s poem has haunted me for years:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I used to read that and think, ‘I’ve only got one shot at this, I’d better get it right!’; ‘Am I doing it right?’ (lyric from a John Mayer song); ‘So many things to experience in this world – am I blowing my one opportunity at life?’
Focusing on time, and how I am spending it, is the trap. Worrying about the infinite things I was giving up by choosing the thing I was doing now … that’s what robbed me of enjoying the thing I was doing now.
It’s taken me almost 50 years to realize it doesn’t matter so much what I’m doing. Almost ironically, letting go of everything else – confronting my own finitude and accepting the reality that I will never be able to do everything – was the key. Choosing to be here now turns this moment’s experience, however exotic or mundane, into something worth paying attention to. It makes it possible to simply relax. It’s going just as it should, in the direction it should, at the pace it should.
The only way to waste our time is to let it slip by unattended.
Life is finite. We have to choose a few things, give up everything else, and deal with the inevitable sense of loss that results.
By the way for anyone interested, Oliver Burkeman digs deep into this topic in his book 4,000 Weeks. He’s much more eloquent than me and I recommend taking a look. He also has a series of audio recordings in Sam Harris’s Waking Up app. Book and series have both been helpful on my journey.