Time and Timing

Time is this grand, unfathomable, overwhelming entity we can never truly grasp. Mysterious and all-encompassing, it forever eludes our attempts to understand it. Even when we think we are near to grasping a part of its nature, we usually find it attached to some other entity that is more easily comprehended by us. In physics, we understand and study time only when it is related to space or motion; in philosophy, time has been understood to be one of the noetic categories with which we comprehend the world of phenomena; in psychology and neuroscience, it is related to our subjective modes of experiencing duration; in painting, it is suggested but never portrayed; in music, it is the basic building block of every composition.

Still, mingled as it is with other things, Time (with a capital T) has throughout the centuries been one of the symbols of the created universe itself. In the Vedas, Time starts the creation and Time will one day end it: “From time all beings emerge, from time they advance and grow; in time they obtain rest.” The same idea was entertained by the Christian theologians: Unlike the Ancient Greeks (and Aristotle in particular, who thought that time was infinite), Thomas Aquinas asserted that time was born together with the creation. For many philosophers and theologians, Time has always been this monumental entity which, after it sets the world in motion, absorbs and destroys everything in itself. The Ancient Greeks identified it with the god Kronos (Saturn) who ate his sons. Cimonides of Ceos called Time “pandamator” (πανδαμάτωρ) – meaning  it consumes or subdues everything with its infinite power. Modern physics has the same view: Time will inevitably lead, via the Second Law of Thermodynamics and entropy, to the disintegration of everything.

We seem to have no control over Time. We did not choose to be born as humans in this era, we cannot stop our body from aging, we cannot return to the past and change what we did wrong, we cannot force the future to come earlier. We are apparently helpless creatures trapped in the stream of Time, which is none other than the invisible expression of all change and all activity in the visible universe. We feel like little ants moving about on the surface of a massive globe that rotates around a star situated at the edge of a galaxy.

Yet there is an escape from Time’s suffocating tentacles!

There is something that mysteriously stands outside of Time, although at first glance it appears to be an integral part of it, it seems to be entangled in it, and even its own name is derived from it: Timing.

Timing is the element that frees Man from Time. Not completely of course, for we are still carried around by Time’s grand movement, and we will still age and die. But while being tossed and thrown about by the merciless god, we have the ability to rise above Time by choosing when to do what in our lives.

It is rare that a definition sheds any significant light on a complicated concept, yet the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of “timing” seems not only to do just that, but to somehow encapsulate all human experience and knowledge gathered throughout the centuries concerning this term: Timing – the choice, judgement, or control of when something should be done. Those three nouns, themselves derived from three active verbs, seem to define not only freedom itself but its relationship to that mysterious power within Man, called the Will. Choosing and controlling is willing, while judging is the ability to impose a rational or ethical order on the mechanical universe ruled by Time. Everything we do is situated in Time; yet, paradoxically, the when we do something is not! The when we do whatever we do is dependent on the choice, the judgement, or the control of our own Will. And Time cannot touch it, although in Time our Will appears, in Time it acts, and through Time its results are manifested.

Timing is the measure of our ability to go over and beyond the “controlling circumstances” of our lives. Whenever we blame our inability to make an important decision in life on the things we apparently cannot control or on the momentum of our past choices (which in turn is another expression for Time’s arrow running its natural course), we betray ourselves. For we relinquish our control over what we can control, which is our ability to act contrary to all controlling circumstances. In the end, the controlling circumstances are controlling us because we have willingly decided to become their slaves. The moment when we do something, when we act and do not remain passive in observing life take its own natural course, is the moment we impose our own human “law of the will” on nature. Deciding when the proper moment to act is, and then actually acting, is the most important science and art Man ought to master. As we read in the famous passage in Ecclesiastes 3 in the Bible:

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance…”

Being constantly mindful of Timing’s central role in whatever we do is being mindful about our own unique and royal nature as humans – who possess Will and have the freedom to exercise it … at will.

But Timing is not just the great liberator from the little slaveries of everyday life. It does not only free us from Time; more importantly, it creates that part of our individual path in Time that does not belong to Time! The philosopher Schopenhauer, who may be said to have brought together the highest creations of Western and Eastern philosophy (Kant and the Vedanta) in his magnum opus “The World as Will and Representation” named Kant’s “thing-in-itself” (the noumenon) as “will.” He did this on the grounds that the nearest we can ever come to having direct experience of the ungraspable noumenon’s manifestations is our own acts of Will, in which we experience from within, the force and drive of the universe. Schopenhauer’s Will was not, of course, identical to the human Will; it was a blind, purposeless, impersonal force. Still though, it is in the human Will that he discovered the closest we can come to experiencing in our very bones the transcendent substratum of the cosmos, whether we call it God, Nature, the One, or the Noumenon. As he said:

“The act of the will is indeed only the nearest and clearest phenomenon of the thing-in-itself; yet it follows from this that, if all the other phenomena could be known by us just as immediately and intimately, we should be obliged to regard them precisely as that which the will is in us. Therefore in this sense I teach that the inner nature of everything is will, and I call the will the thing-in-itself.”

And of all the acts of the Will, none is more important than the when we decide to act, the timing of our actions. Timing is the point where Man meets with the Universe as an equal; where Time the destroyer (pandamator) encounters Man the creator; where the Laws of Nature are transcended by the human Will. If Time is the overwhelming entity that we have no control over and which we do not truly understand, Timing is the controllable entity of human dimensions that we know intimately through our act of willing.

There is nothing more defining in our lives than Timing. In Timing lies our sense of freedom and our willpower; our deepest grasping of both Time and Timelessness; our ability to create our individual path and to define who we are. If Time encloses within it disintegration, Timing continually creates through Man’s Will the elements of harmony and order which together constitute our limited revolt against Time. If the inner nature of everything is Will, then the outer expression of this Will is none other than Timing.

© 2020 Nicos Hadjicostis