Saturday, 22 January 2011

As Time Goes By

"How we spend our days is how we spend our lives." Annie Dillard. 

If you walk along a river bank on a summer’s evening you may be lucky enough to see clouds of Mayflies, sparkling gold in the evening sun. 

It’s an amazing spectacle, thousands of tiny creatures in constant motion, dancing almost rhythmically in a celebration of life.

Life is short for the Mayfly. After months or even years as larvae at the bottom of the river, the winged adult finally emerges from the water’s surface.

At most it will live for just one day. But what a day that is! After months as larvae in the darkness of the river bed, the adult Mayfly takes to the skies. Not a second is wasted, it doesn’t even stop to eat. 

Every ounce of its strength is used to dance above the water’s surface looking for a mate before its short life ends. For the Mayfly, now is all there is.

The 'if-then' trap

I remember someone once telling me that there are two words in the English language that are responsible for more unhappiness than anything else. Those two words are ‘if’ and ‘then’.

“If I can just get that house, job, car, girl, guy... then I’ll be happy.” “If I just do this thing for a few years, then I can sit back and enjoy life.” “If I work hard all my life, then I can retire and do all the things I want to do.”

No, life is happening now. That great song you just heard, that conversation you just shared with a friend, that hour you just spent in traffic, that’s all life happening now. It won’t ever be repeated. 

We can’t store up time, we can’t put the good times in a bank account and withdraw them later.

Imagine the Mayfly emerging from the water and looking around and thinking, “hmm I don’t really fancy any of the Mayflies out today and the sun’s a bit too bright, if I just sit this one out on the river bank then tomorrow I'll find a better mate”. No, for the Mayfly, every second counts.

The ‘if-then’ trap disconnects us from all the richness of life that is happening now. When we finally get that thing we’ve been waiting for, it often ends up being a disappointment and we have to create another ‘if-then’. 

Eventually, after sacrificing our whole life to 'if-thens',  we can find we're too old to do all those things we’ve been waiting for.

One of the easiest ways to avoid falling into the ‘if-then’ trap is to frequently acknowledge the passing of time. How often do we hear that time passes more and more quickly as we get older, or that the years just seem to fly past?

I think that’s a sign we’re disconnected from what’s happening now. Life is passing us by without us even realising it.

Here’s a tip which can help us to acknowledge the passing of time:

  • Every morning we can acknowledge the start of a new day. Every day we wake up we have been granted the privilege of life. We are like the Mayfly emerging from the water’s surface. There are no guarantees for tomorrow but for today we can be grateful.

  • Every evening when we go to sleep we can remember the day and what we did or didn’t do. Did we make the most of it, did we make it count? How can we make the most of tomorrow?

  • We can do a similar thing at the beginning and end of the year and even at the start and end of each month.

It’s very simple but it helps us to acknowledge the passing of time and how we are using it. If we acknowledge the passing of time each day, we’re much more likely to use it wisely.

It’s a bit like keeping track of the money we spend. If we never look at our bank statement and just buy whatever we please, at some point we’re going to get a big shock. Spending time is not so different.

Second by second, minute by minute, year by year time will pass, it’s unstoppable. If we don’t stay connected, it can creep past so quietly that we don’t even notice until it’s all gone. 

Life is short, just ask a Mayfly!

Image courtesy of Milan Radisics


  1. Nice post Big Zen, it's true we're conditioned to think that something bigger and better might come along so we "save" ourselves for that, but really the joke's on us in the end because the most precious thing we have is time.

    We should learn from the Mayfly.

  2. Simplismente me sinto privilegiada em poder ler seu blog, pois vc escreve coisas sábias e que me levam a refletir sobre como estou vivendo a minha vida. Adorei o que li aqui hoje...como sempre,vc arrasou em suas palavras!!!! beijo!!!

  3. @Cora Certainly true, thanks for stopping by.

  4. @patty Obrigado pela suas palavras Patty.