Friday, March 29: This week I finished reading Happiness, by Matthieu Ricard, but he has given me so much to think about, I have a number of topics I’d still like to explore over the next several weeks. In a fascinating chapter called “Golden Time, Leaden Time, Wasted Time,” Ricard compares time to a “fine gold powder that we distractedly allow to slip through our fingers without ever realizing it.” The quote at the beginning of the chapter is this:
Those whom summer’s heat tortures yearn for the full moon of autumn
Without even fearing the idea
That a hundred days of their life will then have passed forever.
~ Buddha Shakyamuni
When I read this quote, I see myself a little too clearly. I am the person who, tortured by Oman’s “summer’s heat” yearns “for the full moon of autumn.” Everyone knows how much I am looking forward to leaving the relentless heat of Oman and returning to the four seasons in Virginia, on the east coast of the United States. I am so ready for my time in Oman to come to an end, so I can return home to the country I love and to my family and friends. But. The quote says it all. By wishing for the next three months to speed by, I should fear that 89 days of my “life will then have passed forever.” I can see the wisdom of these words, and I feel I should really take them to heart.
Ricard reminds us that “it is essential to the quest for happiness that we be aware that time is our most precious commodity…. For the active person, golden time is when he can create, build, accomplish, and devote himself to the welfare of others. For the contemplative, time allows him to look clearly into himself to understand his inner world and rediscover the essence of life.”
I am trying my best to cherish my remaining days in Oman, to use my “golden time.” Even though I’m impatient to leave, I still cherish the time I spend with my students, and if I can add value to their lives, I will be happy with that. I am trying to meditate daily (though I’m not always successful) and to read spiritual books. I’m trying to be aware of my own sabotaging thoughts and my impatience for this time to pass, without latching on to these thoughts and without feeling irritated and antsy. I’m spending time with my friends here and trying to get outdoors in Oman as much as I can, even as the weather gets hotter and hotter. I’m also trying to make more effort with people whose company I enjoy but have made little effort with so far.
Luckily, I rarely feel bored when I have time to myself.
Ricard says of boredom: “Boredom is the fate of those who rely entirely on distraction, for whom life is one big entertainment and who languish the minute the show stops. Boredom is the affliction of those for whom time has no value.” By distraction, Ricard says he does not mean “the tranquil relaxation of a hike in the woods, but pointless activities and interminable mental chatter that, far from illuminating the mind, mire it in exhausting chaos.”
Sometimes I don’t know if the things I do with my time are just distractions, pointless activities, or if they have any real meaning. For example, I spend a lot of time writing my blogs and working on my old blogs, adding more pictures and changing the picture sizes. Maybe this is pointless activity, but for me it brings great enjoyment. When I share something of myself through my writing and pictures and I make a human connection, I feel great pleasure. When I get insightful comments from people who read my blog, or when I sense that I touch them in some way, those connections add value to my life, and I hope to theirs.
One of my goals for this year is to finish my novel. As of today, I’ve finished revising through chapter 15 of my 50 chapter novel. I feel this is a valuable way to spend my time because writing and publishing a novel has been my lifetime dream. Sometimes, yes, I waste time, watching a movie or reading a book just for pure pleasure. But is that a wrong way to spend my time? I don’t think so.
Ricard says, “The idle person talks of ‘killing time.’ What a dreadful expression! Time becomes a long, dreary line. This is leaden time; it weighs on the idler like a burden and cripples anyone who cannot tolerate waiting, delay, boredom, solitude, setbacks, or sometimes even life itself.”
Maybe sometimes, but not often, I talk about killing time. Usually it’s when I’m waiting in a doctor’s office, or waiting for my car to be serviced at the GMC service garage. Or when I’m driving to work or on the interminable drive to Muscat. Yes, these things have to be done. But do I often feel that I am doing things to “kill time?” I don’t think so. Usually, I feel there are not enough hours in the day to do all the things I really want to do.
I like Ricard’s question: “Why not sit beside a lake, on top of a hill, or in a quiet room and examine what we are really made of deep inside?” Now that appeals to me. But in reality, I only have time to go out in nature for a walk on the weekends. It would be lovely if I didn’t have to work and could just take my camera every day for a stroll through the wonders of nature, if I could just sit and contemplate the inner workings of my mind and the universe for hours on end.
Ricard tells of Tenzin Palmo, an English nun who spent many years in retreat, who wrote: ‘People say they have no time for ‘meditation.’ It’s not true! You can meditate walking down the corridor, waiting for the traffic lights to change, at the computer, standing in a queue, in the bathroom, combing your hair. Just be there in the present, without the mental commentary.’
Even in the Bible, Thessalonians 5: 16-18, it says: Rejoice always; pray without ceasing. in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Ricard recommends that we cultivate a number of qualities to experience our relationship with time more harmoniously.
1) Mindfulness allows us to be aware of the passage of time.
2) Proper motivation gives color and value to time.
3) Diligence allows us to put it to good use.
4) Inner freedom prevents time being hijacked by disturbing emotions.
Finally, he ends by saying, “From the day we are born, every second, every step, brings us closer to death…. A lucid awareness of the nature of things inspires us to live every passing day to the full.”
I will try my best to enjoy my last days in Oman without wishing for them to hurry and pass. I must slow down, contemplate, appreciate, savor these final days, hours, moments. Because I know I will miss this place, and my dear friends, when I’m gone.