I bought my copy of Joe Hyams’ Zen in the Martial Arts in 1992, while I was in London1.
The friend that was with me in the bookstore dismissed this beautifully illustrated book as
typical Yankee-a##hole mystical crap
and he was completely off the mark – but he was a very self-centered person, the sort that gets a kick out of making feel bad the people around them.
In his book, Hyams relates a discussion between himself, Bruce Lee and screenwriter Stirling Silliphant2, about time.
I’ll re-type part of that discussion here.
“To spend time is to pass it in a specified manner,” he [Bruce Lee] said. “We are spending its during lessons just as we are spending it now in conversation. To waste time is to expend it thoughtlessly or carelessly. We all have time to spend or waste and it is our decision what to do with it. But once passed, it is gone forever.”
I’ve been thinking back at this specific chapter in Zen in the Martial Arts in the last six weeks.
After my father’s death, I started seeking a job with extreme hurry.
I’ve been doing small jobs and paid my bills with my writing and translations while I looked after my father – now the money is running out, and I need a steady cash flow.
And here’s where the time wasting bit comes into it.
The most unnerving part of this increasingly desperate job hunt is not the rejection letters I get for my submissions – that’s part of the game, I send a CV, the other side decides if I’m what they are looking for or not.
No, the unnerving bit is the time wasters.
The people that set an appointment at a certain time and then let you sit out for one hour waiting.
The people that ask you for piles of documentation and then disappear.
The I’ll-call-you-tomorrows that never call.
And while they take their time, they steal mine.
This has made me much more sensitive to the time-wasting thing. My days are tightly packed – not one minute can go to waste because literally time is money, and money is running out.
Which is making me particularly irritated at people that arrive late at appointments, even if it’s just to see old friends, and they arrive forty-five minutes late, I’m now painfully aware of the basic lack of respect for my life.
“It’s the most precious commodity we have,” agreed Stirling. “[…] Anyone who steals my time is stealing my life because they are taking my existence from me. As I get older, I realize that time is the only thing I have left.”
And I have to agree.
Who knows, maybe, paying more respectful attention at other people’s time, we might help making things a little better.
For sure, my current policy with time wasters is to drop them.
They’ll never be able to give me back the time they are stealing from me.