Squander Your Time

If ever I ventured to write a treatise on the savoir vivre, I would not neglect to address, in an entire chapter, the art of whiling away. It seems to me that this type of happiness – which is, equally, an admirable instrument of knowledge – has long been forgotten. And, it has been cast into oblivion precisely because the modern, the civilized, as it were, do not know how to treasure their time and have so much of it on their hands that they even put order into their binges. There has never been a larger quantity of "spare time" in this world than in the present century. Therefore, never were they so many automated frolics which attempt to make this leisure replete, as part of a pseudo-occupation (sports, cinema, light reading, flirting); in other words, to convert it from "wasted" to "pleasurably passed time." There is an alarming thirst of "cramming," "prodigalizing," "throwing away" (in other words, a taste for unobserved oblivion) in all aspects of modern life. This is how I may account for the epochal lack of comprehension in the face of uncomplicated truths. These are not to be fathomed by another than one who knows how to squander time. Nonetheless, let us be clear. This art does not have anything to do with intellectual sloth, eternal vagabonding, a readiness prompted by the incapacity to act or a spiritual spleen. All these solely spring from a lack of certitude; whereas, that which is absolutely required in a genuine loss of time is the brief disposal of one's certainties, in order to embrace the certainties of the street. It, in other words, signifies availability to miracle. On the other hand, consider the life of our contemporaries. When do they overtly lose their time? They always have a spree at hand, and, when this eludes them, they resort to sleep. Never would they remain alone. They always have narcotics – which, on another level, equates constantly wearing watches during their leisure. Are you not perplexed by the dubious adherence of modern man to watches? Are you not daunted by the continuous verification of time by the hands of a clock? It was my intention, for a long while, to inform myself from any source, whatsoever, as to how people used to keep appointments in past centuries. I should, for instance, wish to learn if even they were familiar with the cruelty (I deem entirely modern) of waiting, procrastinating, or of late-comings. Why do we agonize in the absence of the pointing metal hands? Why do the strikes of a pendulum equally become the beats of our hearts? Is it not a thing entirely unnatural, that we should externalize our time, translate a feeling into an automatic indicator? Maybe the entire epochal style could be epitomized by what is at present known under lying in wait; it is a still expectation, conditioned by an event predicted with precision and authenticated by the clock. Contrarily, in times remote, when legends of saints and heroes were emerging, expectation was equated with exaltation, apprehensiveness, paroxysm of states harbored by kin life. There it was – all the hunger for life and redemption of a race or a people – encapsulated in the expectation of one single man… Only somebody who is entirely diligent and responsible in his work may experience that beatitude and that instrument of knowledge called squander of time. Nonetheless, as a rule, modern people are never "occupied," but nearly always: open to ephemeral probabilities. Their work does not spring from a will for expression carried by life itself. They only render a service, or entrance themselves by pursuing one idea (as scientific work, erudition, and culture, broadly speaking, do) or work automatically, lest they should be alone. Under such conditions, the hunger for passing time cannot thrive; at the very best, an urge for recreation, for "bingeing" emerges. Waste of time implies superabundance, a temporary suspension of present certitude – but it maintains attention, as well as lucidity. Contrarily, contemporary sprees create and call for an attention external to one's own self. This would be the case with movie theatres, with which the emotional and critical attention is channeled and governed by the theme and the artistry of the film. This would be the case with sport matches, where the attention is once more summoned by a clear-cut event, external to one's own self, of which one has been pre-informed and which can be witnessed on account to resorting to a clock. All these binges do not give humans time – they steal it away. That is to say, they are so automated, typified, that one knows precisely one is going to be the captive of a certain director for a number hours. This is admirable, doubtlessly, but it does not equal "the whiling away of time," killing and forgetting it instead. It is a vexing propensity of the modern spirit towards leveling everything off, towards automating even the most spontaneous manifestations. This sameness does not have anything to do with harmony, rhythmicity: these constitute the most compelling end of any human life. One seldom lives more surprisingly, more productively, than when one squanders time. In actual fact, it is the only time humans are able to truly listen; at times, they listen solely to the purpose of giving the answer, or to complement an information. I was pointing out that, if certain simple truths do not circulate and do not nurture contemporary life, this is largely due to the following: nobody listens, nobody wastes their time, ready to flash back an answer, interpreting one's utterances as they please; all seem to pre-know what makes one tick and how one thinks. Whereas, one of the most implacable truths – and, at the same time, one of the simplest – is precisely this doubt humans must evince, at least for several instants, in the face of anybody; someone may well conceal a tragedy or undergo a miracle, who knows? Nonetheless, someone who does not know how to pass their time is not familiar with this type of sympathetic expectancy and, accordingly, does not know people. He or she will always act like an automaton – if the interlocutor brings out a certain emotion in him, he is bound to obtain a formula; if he triggers a certain association of ideas, he is bound to obtain another formula. Nonetheless – the human miracle: life … where is it? The very sum and substance of all things eludes these foolhardy people, who know everything ahead of and better than the next man, namely, one's autonomous experience, one's own creation. They have forgotten how to while away, would not permit life itself, with all its revelation and mystery, to pervade them. As they measure time by the clock and try to spend it by entertaining pseudo-occupations, they observe people via an external system of hour plates and figures. You will understand this when you hear them telling you things about yourself: they will tell you so many such things which stand to reason, and present you with their well-founded theories – however, where are you to be found therein, where is the unleashed life in your being? How scarcely do people know one another, how forlorn they remain – even in the flawlessly directed setting of tried intimacy and love. This, one comes to understand only on a day when time is passed at leisure, and taken to interact without an attempt to persuade anybody of one's own truths. It is when others are looked upon without preconceived notions. It is a matter of absolute openness, honesty – this blissful loss of time. It is then knowledge gains perspective and certainty – things which those who judge through their clock glass, with their stereotype and lifeless knowledge, shall never have. Excerpted from Mircea ELIADE, Oceanography, in: Journey Towards the Center (An anthology by Gabriel Liiceanu and Andrei Pleşu), Univers Publishing House, Bucharest, 1991

by Mircea Eliade (1907-1986)