In his book Four Thousand Weeks, Oliver Burkeman offers us a philosophical, yet practical way of thinking about time. I found the book a fascinating read. The overarching message that I took away, was about the importance of accepting the finitude of time. Acknowledging the reality of our limited lifespan helps us to connect to what is most important to us, and to be more mindful about how much we can realistically take on.
Making and accepting our choices
For me, the message this book came as a welcome contrast to the triter end of the self-help and motivational speaking industry, which likes to tell us that we can have and do anything we want.
This is not to say we don’t have choice and can’t take our life in the direction of our dreams – we absolutely can! But living in a consumer society, we are served up an inexhaustible number of choices, aspirations and possible futures. The result can be to leave us constantly overwhelmed with trying to do and be everything.
In my view we can experience a thousand different lives and realities through the arts – literature, philosophy, science, biography, explored through books and theatre and films and exhibitions.
But in the day-to-day living of our finite lives, we do need to make choices. And when it comes to navigating choice points, I’m grateful to Susan Jeffers, author of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, for her no-lose decision making model. Her model helped me see that every decision takes us down a branching path. Looking back in regret at paths not taken is not a productive use of our time and energy, because we have no way of knowing what would have happened.
An experience of finitude
In encouraging us to remember and appreciate the finitude of life, Burkeman believe that we will be more open to the wonder that we are here at all.
Reading this book has reminded me of a meditation retreat that I attended some years ago. One of the meditations took us through an imagined experience of going through our own death, in an environment where we were full supported. This was a powerful and ultimately life-enhancing experience for me, and for others on the retreat. It’s not something I talk about in everyday conversation, but it has stayed with me, and deepened my appreciation of life.
Shifting the dial
Stoic philosophers such as Marcus Auerelius encourage an awareness of our mortality in order to make the most of our lives, and this understanding is also reflected in Four Thousand Weeks.
Burkeman doesn’t set himself up as some kind of guru who has totally mastered the art of living well. Instead he writes accessibly about the truths that most of us ponder at times, helping to shift the dial a little away from the constant busyness that idolising productivity seems to have brought to our world. For this reason, I recommend the book as a thought-provoking and worthwhile read.
What might you choose to do with your time, when you keep in mind that life is finite?
Photo by Sage Friedman on Unsplash