A Thought on Wasting Time

Regular readers will be aware that I often return, perhaps somewhat obsessively, to the theme of not wasting time. I can never emphasize enough, however, that when I speak of wasting time, or invoke the personal motto of sorts that I use to exhort my serious students to improve their lives — “I don’t waste time” — I am not even remotely concerned with such notions as “time management,” “sticking to a schedule,” “staying productive,” or any of our other modern ways of reframing mindless dissipation and spiritual superficiality as virtues. 

In other words, the modern disdain for “idleness” and corresponding preference for “keeping busy” are merely symptoms of our loss of belief that there is really anything fundamentally important to do; hence our blind faith in the frivolous idea that if we just keep doing something, we are living. Our motivational gurus’ encouragement to frenetic movement — I say “movement” because what they are advising is not really activity in the strict sense — far from indicating any seriousness of purpose, is in fact evidence of a tragic loss of purpose, which is to say of any reason for living. Rather, all this keeping busy and staying on track, understood psychologically, is a sign and effect of nihilism.

Wasting time, as I use that term, refers to doing what is neither essential in itself, nor contributes anything to the essential in life. By essential, in regard to human life, I mean spiritual, developmental, intentional, definitional — that which overcomes or redeems, that which coheres and unifies, that which rises above and encircles.

If I am to fly over oceans and around worlds, I must grow wings and study patience and endurance. These are essential.

If I am to fly well, I must pause to smooth my wings and nourish myself for long-distance flight. These are contributive to the essential. 

Everything else is a distraction from flight. 

Dreams. — Either we have no dreams or our dreams are interesting. We should learn to arrange our waking life the same way: nothing or interesting.

— Nietzsche, The Gay Science (Kaufmann translation), ยง232

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