By Christopher Cudworth
First we experience time in hours and days around which we construct our lives. That is time in the sense of cosmology. It measures our being in terms of existence.
Next we experience time in terms of schedules and daily activities. We plan our work and family lives, and map our workouts. That is time as cosmography. It measures our being as part of a construct.
Finally we experience time in terms of performance. We map our goals and try to achieve them. We train and race and hit the buttons of our stopwatch or Smartphone. This is empiric data we crave. This is time as cosmogony. It is how we bring ourselves into being.
We define ourselves for better or worse by constructing theories about what we should be and can be, and that’s where emotion enters the picture along with motivation.
All these constructs define our relationship with time. There is a relatively narrow window in which we all operate on all three levels. 80 years of living is simply not that long a time on earth. Not when you consider the earth itself is more than 4 billion years old.
Time cares not whether we exist, you see. Human beings essentially invented the measurement of time in order to give our lives structure and also to imbue some sense of control over the incredible breadth of infinity both before, after and beyond our comprehension.
Then there are those who believe in God, the great infinite being that invented it all.
There are also those who do not believe in gods of any kind.
Yet we are all faced with the difficult yet incomplete notion that time is irreversible. We can’t go back to fix our mistakes. We can’t get back those lost to time and death. We can’t recover lost love any more than we can go back and run the third mile of a 10K with a bit more focus.
We’re not trapped, exactly. Yet there is a feeling of destiny in every moment of being if you stop to consider where you are, and why you are there. When we step to the line of a race there is one path in front of us. The Start leads to the Finish. If we are lucky, that happens.
At one point while studying the philosophy of existentialism, I happened upon the concept of the “irreversibility of time.” It shocked me into the moment. Then it shocked me into considering what I was doing with my life. Then it numbed me to the point where frustration crept in.
I actually began complaining about the ugly wrestling match we had with time. Out on our long, lonely runs in the hills of Iowa, it was hard not to run too hard all the time. We kept the pedal pressed to the floor all the time. Our runs of 6, 10 and 15 miles were all done at the same relative pace, between 6:00 and 7:00 per mile.
It was insane. Time became a harsh bother. So I bitched about it. Then I broke from the pack one day and sprinted ahead.
It was depression, I later realized. The first point of my life where the realization that my brain functioned in a manner that was not constructive to my well-being. It could have been seasonal. Or it could have been something else.
It all came to a breaking point when my roommate turned to me and said, “You know what, Cud? What you need to do is shut up and run.”
And that’s what I did. And once freed from the constraints of complaint and the sounds of that fight I was conducting with time in my head, it all fell into place. My PRs at every distance fell like hurdles.
Experiences like these are necessary to help us understand our relationship with time, and what we do with it. Difficulty breeds perseverance. We learn to reckon with time.
Which is what made it all the sweeter to read the words in another book, for another class. The book was titled Ambiguous Adventure. It dealt with the experiences of an expatriated African living in France. His loneliness and disconnectedness haunted him until one day he realized his place was defined not by his notions of home, but by his willingness to experience life in the moment. “The purity of the moment is made from the absence of time,” the book said.
And I believe that. It has made the relationship with time much more easy to accept.