We all have a weird relationship with time. Most of us don’t think about it at all. The average human, in the United States, will live for 78.8 years. That’s 944.97 months; 41,417,280 minutes; 2,485,036,800 seconds. Today, you will spend 86,400 of those seconds. You may spend all 86,400 of them completely unaware of your day and the time spent. It feels like numbly putting pennies in a slot machine as the patterns and symbols spin around.
Even though we all have a set amount to spend in the slot machine of life, time is not your most valuable asset. Your attention is the most important aspect of being alive. Even if your lifetime extends into another 999 million seconds, it is possible to get to the 999 millionth second and realize that you have missed the bulk of it.
Your awareness of this second — this moment — will be your only true reality. In this way, the number of seconds that you live doesn’t matter. We all experience the same one. Now. Many of us are missing the “now” of our life. We are not really present in any situation that we enter into. This is an unfortunate truth because in the words of Vietnamese monk and “father of mindfulness” Thich Nhat Hanh, “the most precious gift we can offer others is our presence.”
If you knew that you would die in 14 days, what would you do? What about a year? What about 25 years? My guess is, in each circumstance, that everyone would miss as much of their life as they do now. If you are in a habit of mindlessly putting your pennies into the slot machine, you will do it until your pockets are empty. This is why paying attention is so important.
For the last decade, I have had this idea of what I want to be like as an old man. I want to be an equanimous, present, calm, patient, mindful, wise, almost monk-like version of myself. I am on the borderline of halfway through my my 78.8 years. What I do now will become what I am then. Using my conscious attention to be mindful of what is happening is part of becoming that version of myself. This is why mindfulness practice is important to me. It trains my mind into the habit of paying attention to what is happening now.
Much of my day can consist of me being lost in thoughts. An equal amount of the day can be lost in scrolling a Facebook feed, mindless and solitary in a room full of people. Now add in the amount of time that I sleep. This is the recipe for a lot of time with little attention. What I just described is the definition of most of our days for most of our life. It leaves life feeling half lived and blurry. Being aware of your mind and your experience can help bring your life, time, and attention into focus.
What kind of person do you want to be when you are old? No one will answer that they want to be half aware, lost in thought, and missing life, but the things you practice doing with your attention now, will be what you are then. Pay attention. Look up from the phone and live your life now. How many pennies do you have left?