As the new year starts losing its novelty, I’m led to ask: “Where is the new year, anyway?”
In dependence upon the observation of change and a certain orientation of celestial bodies, in addition to historical events that are deemed significant enough to start counting years, we say that now is the year 2013.
I’m certain that it’s really, truly 2013. Can I find anything – within my mind or outside in the world – that is truly this year, the actual referent of “2013,” beyond the mere label?
Luckily, I have someone to remind me of the insubstantiality of dates. Each morning I ask the 95-year-old man I care for if he knows the date and year. His memory isn’t great anymore, but I admire that he tries: “Twenty-nine! Ten nineteen? Nineteen fourty-six!”
This makes it clear that the year doesn’t have intrinsic existence… if it did, since he’s alive here in this year, he’d be able to just look around and see that it’s 2013. For him, it’s just a number with no more meaning than any other.
I was also alerted to this when I was in a shop in India and saw the calendar on the wall – it was totally foreign to me. My ethnocentrism left me stunned!
Why does this matter? I buy into these mere labels so fully that I believe there’s something substantially there that makes time what it is.
Regarding time as very real results in all sorts of confusion, anxiety, grief, nostalgia, and fruitless fantasy.
This was the first year I spent Christmas time living in a largely Christian community. I was surprised by how ordinary it was – where was all the merry-making? On the contrary, more than one person remarked how relieved they were the day after Christmas, with all the stress over! That sure burst my bubble.
I have to laugh that some days I spend more time fretting about the time than I do making productive use of it.
That said, time is a very useful convention that allows us to communicate our intentions and coordinate our activities. It’s quite a marvelous system, really.
Yet, I will be better off if I can hold time loosely. I’d be foolish to hold it any other way – it will still slip right by!
Today, I will avoid getting caught in anxiety over time. Recognizing that the past, present, and future are all merely labeled in dependence upon one another, I’ll live the disintegrating present purposefully without ruminating about the past or nervously awaiting the future.
I’ll be content to do what I can with the available time, remembering that when my time is up and my mind separates from my body, what will really be of benefit is the constructive actions I did and the love, compassion, and wisdom I developed in my mind.