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Embracing the Realities of Time and Truly Living

"Every meeting ends in parting" is not just about relationships but all of life.

Key points

  • The impact of time on our lives is inevitable. Yet people often waste time, run out of time, and put things off until another day.
  • The net results of denying the impact of time reveal themselves as inhibition and regret for what could have been a more satisfying life.
  • Some of the most common regrets in life include not living a life true oneself, working too much and not expressing one's feelings.
Mohammed Hassan, Pixabay free image
Source: Mohammed Hassan, Pixabay free image

A few weeks ago, I came across a saying that I had never heard before: Every meeting ends in parting. A fresh experience of this simple, bittersweet fact of life touched my heart. It felt particularly moving in the context of this long, dark season of our shared global life in which there has been so much grief and loss.

The phrase is drawn from a larger Buddhist teaching that expands its resonance in these times: Everything coming together falls apart. Everything rising up collapses. Every meeting ends in parting. Every life ends in death.

Here is a fundamental truth about life that is both straightforward and paradoxical. It has to do with the inevitability of time’s impact on our lives. We are born and we die. Yes, of course, that is true. We come and we go. Yes, clearly. But the tricky part, the part that we need to sit with for a while to really understand, is this: Living with the awareness of the fact of death allows us to be mindful of the preciousness of life.

Denial of the Impact of Time

When we look around, we see the denial of the impact of time everywhere. We waste time. We mark time. We lose track of time. We run out of time. We put off until tomorrow what we can do today. The net results of this denial strategy are two-fold; they reveal themselves as inhibition and regret.

One of the most common issues that I encounter in my psychotherapy practice is inhibition. People come to me because they feel empty, uninspired, restricted, stuck, or lost. These sorts of inhibitions look different for different people. For some, the root problem is commitment. They cannot commit to a relationship, or a profession, or a project, or a place because they are afraid that they will miss out on something better. For others, it is a problem with confidence. They are afraid of trying something new or reaching out beyond their comfort zone because they lack the conviction that they can bear the pain of disappointment, criticism, failure, or loss that is part and parcel of a life lived passionately.

While many people struggle with inhibition, it is especially difficult for those who have experienced loss early in their lives, before they had developed the mental and emotional resources to be able to manage successfully. Early trauma and loss greatly undermine confidence that the world is a safe, generous place and that inner resources will be enough to meet external challenges. Such folks need to be met with compassionate understanding, alongside our efforts to help them develop courage to try again.

The Loss That Comes with Inhibition

While inhibition offers us some semblance of protection from the dangers and disappointments of the world “out there,” it is an approach that comes with its own kind of loss, disappointment, and pain. We create smaller and ultimately more unsatisfying worlds for ourselves—both on the outside and on the inside. Most importantly, we deprive ourselves of the very experiences that would help us develop better skills and capacities to deal with the challenges that we fear. And the less we interact with the world we fear, the more frightening it becomes. In my experience, this inhibiting strategy has far more loss than gain.

Inhibition is inextricably linked to regret. When we restrict our lives, we are left with a sense of distress and grief over what could have been. At some level, we know that we have merely postponed the experience of loss until it is too late to do anything about it.

In her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Australian hospice nurse Bronnie Ware shares her summation of the many conversations she had with her patients at the end of their lives. Held back by fear of change, worries about the judgments of others, and the stranglehold of the daily grind, her patients reported these five regrets:

  1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
  3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Pixabay free image
Source: Pixabay free image

A Better Relationship with Time

We will all have regrets at the end of our lives. That, too, is inevitable. But we minimize those regrets and maximize our sense of satisfaction when we are able to position ourselves in a better relationship with time. When we become aware of the limitations of time, we put a higher value on the time that we have. From an emotional perspective, this means that we appreciate and cherish our experiences and relationships while we have them. We are able to be more present in the moment and to savor it. There is a valuable practical aspect, too. When we are aware that we do not have forever, we ignite an inner motivation to use our time more mindfully, more intentionally.

The author turned psychoanalyst Judith Viorst describes life as a developmental process of giving up loves, illusions, dependencies and impossible expectations in order to grow. She called these necessary losses and believed that facing these losses squarely is a normal and natural part of life as well as the key to maturity, happiness, and inner peace. She recognizes that we cannot have it all, but we can have a good life. She honors the fact that life is frightening, but still recommends courage and the taking of risks. She knows the pain of grief but still believes in the power of love to enrich our lives.

At its heart, the saying, “every meeting ends in parting,” is not just about relationships, it is about all of life. It is not only about life in the most existential sense that we all must die but also about life in its everyday moments—in the small things, in the daily decisions we make about whether we will choose to meet life and engage with it, or not.

This essay was also published in Womankind magazine, #028: South Africa, 2021. Used with permission.

References

Ware, Bronnie (2011). The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Hay House.

Viorst, Judith (1986). Necessary Losses. Simon and Schuster.

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