Grasping time and chance

We’re already in March, and the start of autumn. The nights are getting longer, the mornings a little chillier and the leaves on the trees are already beginning to change, writes life coach Jan Aitken.

Jan Aitken
Jan Aitken
I find seasonal changes are often a time of reflection, and for some reason, this summer to autumn change seems to be a particularly reflective one. Perhaps it’s the creeping sensation of middle age, or maybe because it’s been a year since our first lockdown due to Covid and anniversaries invariably stir up memories, thoughts and feelings.

I was prompted further down the reflection path after reading a blog by psychologist Jennifer Kunst.

She was musing about the lessons we learn growing up. As children, many of us live in an appropriate "state of ignorance". As we grow up, our "idealizations become sullied by the facts of life". In other words, as we grow up we learn that life isn’t all fluffy clouds and unicorns and that playing field sure as heck ain’t level! One of the "facts" we learn is that nothing is forever, time doesn’t stand still and that loss is inevitable. Time for a bit more thinking.

Getting our heads around these sorts of truths or "facts of life" is essential to our psychological well-being and resilience. But who wants to dwell on the reality of loss and the inevitability that time marches on?

Isn’t that just depressing? Well, it could be if we choose to believe that life simply "happens" to us, that we have no part in creating our reality. However, if we embrace those truths, I think that gives us a greater opportunity to make the most of life.

When we deny the reality of loss, we take our lives and all that we treasure for granted. If we think we will have them forever, there’s little motivation to get off our backsides and do the hard things that are necessary to truly appreciate, honour and grow them. If we stick with the childhood thought that everything just takes care of itself, we don’t feel the "conviction of responsibility" to do all that we can to preserve, protect, and invest in our lives, each and every day.

Without any awareness of the passage of time, we can let opportunities go by rather than seizing the moments when they come along. How many opportunities do we let pass us by thinking that we will get another tomorrow? We can let the opportunity to step up, to take a risk and grow, to step beyond the fear holding us back, to do the right thing, to say "I’m sorry" or "I love you" to slip by.

Humans are designed towards self-protection to ensure survival. Stirring the pot and stepping outside our safety zones can be counter intuitive. If we are honest, we can acknowledge that this could lead to a kind of laziness, don’t poke the bear! We want to hide out, keep the status quo, even if it’s not particularly fulfilling. Left unchecked, this natural human urge keeps us in our cocoon where we risk never getting anything much done and never getting anything much out of life. Now, that’s really depressing.

The good news is that if we can develop the courage to face the facts that time moves on and loss is an inevitable part of life, we can create the conditions in which we can get up and get rolling. As Jennifer Kunst succinctly writes: "Herein lies a paradox, It is only when we see ourselves within the limitations of time that we can become aware of the value of time."

When we get our heads around this, we can truly live in the moment. Here, we can be guided by a set of much more uplifting sayings such as "Carpe diem" and "No regrets", while comfortably accepting that "tomorrow isn’t promised".

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

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