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Adjust Your Perception of Time and Desire (Week 15 of Wisdom)

“We greatly overestimate what we can do in one year. But we greatly underestimate what is possible for us in five years.”

Peter Drucker

It is not necessary to wait for five years before seeing the truth of this idea. We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short amount of time, and underestimate what we can do over a long amount of time.

When you learn new ideas, they do not crystalize until sufficient time has passed.

When you learn a new skill, it only becomes second nature after sufficient repetitions.

When you individuate (Jung’s idea), that is, you become more in touch with the Self – the unconscious core of who you are –  you can only do so by dreaming, thus this process of individuation is a slow crawl that can scarcely be sped up or forced.

And yet, the modern world is insistent on deadlines and doing things quickly. Once you notice that this is neither natural nor effective, you will become frustrated. But deadlines force you to think more sharply and efficiently. There are benefits to having to work within limitations. If you felt you had infinite time, you may not work urgently or even creatively (since limitations are a pre-requisite to creativity.

Even if you do know about this trade-off, you will still be frustrated. When things are too slow, you are unproductive and unfilled, and if they are too fast, then you are overworked and unbalanced. But where does this source of frustration come from?

According to the Buddhists, the source of frustration itself is desire. When desire is eliminated, frustration is eliminated. There is nothing to be frustrated about.

The philosopher Schopenhauer likewise remarked, perhaps disingenuously, that the solution to man’s suffering was the elimination of the will. His idea was that everything was composed of “the will”. If there was no will, there would not be anything. Thus, to live in a way where one wills nothing is the perfect remedy to a life of endless frustrations.

But it is not simply the will, or desire, that is the cause of frustration – it is will or desire in combination with time. In other words, it is not lacking the desirable object that frustrates an individual, it is lacking this object for a moment in time.

Imagine losing your cell phone or your wallet at a crowded coffee shop. It is not the fact that you have lost your valuables that bothers you, because given enough time, everything can be replaced. But losing your phone or your wallet now means that your near future will be painful because of what you lack. It is not only the inconvenience of being unable to use your wallet or your phone, but the fact that you will need to spend time and effort to replace what you have lost.

It is not having to work that is frustrating, but it is when work is either too slow or too fast, that you feel its painful psychological effects.

We also know that happiness never results from the attainment of an object. The Eastern thinkers are famous for this insight. Once you achieve something, you no longer derive any enjoyment from it. In other words, it is the chase itself that is the source of happiness. Once the chase is gone, your sights are set on another object to chase.

Combining these ideas together, we learn that lacking something for a certain amount of time is a source of misery, and that trying to attain something that one does not have for a certain amount of time is a source of joy. We also know that how quickly or slowly one attains or loses something is important.

What appears before us is a paradox. And as mentioned in “Insight Through Contradiction”, this should be encouraging not discouraging. Let us take Desire and Will, they are not only the sources of suffering, but they are the sources of meaning and happiness. Should we eliminate desire, so that we can cope with inevitable frustrations, or should we opt for a more reasonable alternative – to change our relationship to desire?

Time has a great effect on our relationship with what we desire, and as such, is just as guilty in its role in causing suffering. Should we then eliminate time? That is as sensible as eliminating desire, since they are at the root of our frustrations. Of course, there is a way to eliminate time and desire, and that is through suicide. But let us see if we can find a better option. Rather than crudely trying to eliminate time or desire altogether, we can narrow down the destruction to our current perception of time and desire.

With regards to time, you must know when it is correct to think long-term, to be patient, and when it is correct to act quickly, and burst forward. With regards to desire, you must know what is most suitable for a person of your skills and circumstances and disposition to desire, and must use your past achievements as your benchmark, not the achievements of others.

It is neither the total elimination of the effect of time, nor the total elimination of the effect of desire, but it is the partial elimination of the effects of each that eases suffering.

To adjust one’s desires, to aim at more reasonable objectives, is one way of partially mitigating for the suffering that results there. And to adjust one’s perspective on time is a way to reduce the damage from being too much in a hurry or moving too slow.

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"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian

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