Finite World

If you’ve been reading here a while you likely know I’m not much enamored of the cult of productivity. My antipathy pre-dates this blog, but if you’re curious, here’s an early rant that remains one of the most popular posts on the site even after ten years.

Anyhoo, I’ve been lately enjoying the work of Oliver Burkeman, a self-confessed time-management obsessive, who has written frequently of his efforts to rid himself of his addiction to maximizing his personal productivity.

I love a good conversion story. Come into the light, all ye burners of the two-ended candle whose to-do lists and in-boxes still runneth over! There is joy to be found here! And naps!

Burkeman draws on the Stoics and the French existentialists to shape his philosophy — similar to my own, which is why I like him — that things are generally going to go as they’re going to go, that most of it is out of our control, that we’re all pretty inconsequential, so we might as well chill out and have a life.

I found his new book, 4000 Weeks: Time Management for Mortals to be a refreshingly sane perspective on all of this, and particularly on the nature of time itself. What it (probably) is and isn’t, and how you can’t really “have it” so much as be it, or be in it. Which is to say, we inhabit time in much the same way we inhabit our physical space.

It permeates us. It is us.

About that physical space, he writes:

In short: less Descartes, please, with his insistence on the mind and body as utterly distinct realms; and more Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the French existentialist who saw that we could never flee the physical for the mental, because “the body is our general means of having a world”. Meaning gets made in the interactions between you, a physical thing, and the finite world in which you find yourself.  

Oliver Burkeman, Getting Physical

It’s nothing the poets haven’t been telling us for ages. David Whyte offered a similar observation in a conversation with Krista Tippett several years ago, when he discussed what brought him back to poetry after working as a marine zoologist:

I began to realize that the only place where things were actually real was at this frontier between what you think is you and what you think is not you; that whatever you desire of the world will not come to pass exactly as you will like it.

But the other mercy is that whatever the world desires of you will also not come to pass. And what actually occurs is this meeting, this frontier. 

David Whythe, The Conversational Nature of Reality

And, of course, there’s Rumi:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense

I hope you’re having a good week. Had any encounters with Whyte’s frontier, or Rumi’s field? How are your interactions with Burkeman’s finite world going? Share if you’d like.

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