What do we do with our time: experience or be lived?

Time is money, a metaphor that indicates that time is precious. It also implies that we can own time. We have time. But is that really so? Can we make time so absolute? Or does a lot also depend on the perception of time? We can experience and experience time outside of us and within us. Sometimes it feels like time is mastering us, and we are lived by our agendas, but then again we can consciously experience time and enjoy the time that has been given to us. How do we do that?

  • Metaphors guide our thinking
  • Time is money?
  • What is time?
  • Clock time versus perception of time
  • Time is experience
  • Experience is time
  • Time sometimes seems to stand still
  • Experiencing time as adventure and routine
  • … And boredom as an experience of time
  • Restlessness and boredom
  • Peace
  • Timeless experience


Metaphors guide our thinking

A metaphor is a figure of speech, a way of using metaphorical language. You paint a picture that matches what you mean. So you say one thing and refer to another to show or imply that there is a similarity. The clearer the image, the clearer the imagery. Metaphors influence not only our communication, but also our thinking and behavior.

We describe and understand reality through our use of metaphors. That is the theory of conceptual metaphor , first cited in Metaphors we live by by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980). Metaphors provide categorization in our (subconscious) thinking and thus shape our understanding and experience of things. Not only do we use metaphors in our language and communication, but we think, feel and behave in accordance with the metaphors. We have no choice but to think metaphorically. For example, the metaphor ‘time is money’, we try to save time or we waste it, we do our best to budget time by managing it, we take our time or we don’t have time. Or a metaphor like ‘football is war’, the famous statement by Rinus Michels. We can win, lose, compete against the opponent and aggression is therefore allowed during a football match.

Some metaphors are undesirable because they provide an image of reality that is not impartial or covers only part of it. For example, research showed (reported in The Guardian , August 10, 2019) that people do not recover faster from cancer by thinking in metaphors such as cancer is war or cancer is a battle. It is better to view the illness and recovery process as a journey. A ‘tsunami’ of refugees gives the impression that it is a tidal wave of refugees, while emphasizing the negative and the fear. We often view our bodies and minds in terms of productivity: we need to recharge, energize, refuel, get the best out of ourselves, everything we do must have a purpose, we need to do as much as possible with maximum results (in as little time as possible). time, with as little effort as possible), and so on. While we are so much more. But coming up with an alternative is not that easy, as Lynn Berger also experienced in her Correspondent article: How metaphors determine our thinking (2018).

If we want to think ‘against’ it is important that we know about the existence of the metaphor. We can then use a different conceptual framework that we find more applicable or desirable. A metaphor can be used in communication, especially via social media, within a persuasive technique such as ‘framing’. Such a frame of mind gives us glasses through which to view reality and thus influences our view of reality.

Time is money?

The metaphor Time is money seems logical, but is it correct? Is time really so measurable, so absolute? Or should we also learn to think against this? We may wonder what time actually is.

What is time?

Time is not mathematical, but physical. It’s not a given. When we talk about time we are talking about duration, about the order of events that take place, about a specific time of action. But at the same time that is very short-sighted. We humans live in time. Our nature is time. Physical events occur over time. This presupposes direction and distance. But in his general theory of relativity, Albert Einstein stated that time has no direction. There is some asymmetry. We measure time by change, but at the same time we also use time as the measure needed for this. And what is distance when it comes to time? We are actually talking about spacetime, according to Einstein, because time and distance belong together, because they are intertwined. According to Newton, both time and space were static and constant: space is a given and within it time passes inexorably regularly. For example, you can define the speed of light as the distance traveled times the unit of time.

Einstein disagreed. Only the speed of light is a constant. If you accept this, then spacetime must bend everywhere around masses, such as the Earth. It takes you a certain time to travel a given distance, depending on where you are and what speed you are going at. The closer you get to the speed of light, the more you will notice spacetime. Nature then behaves very differently. If time does not exist, then this automatically means that a concept such as simultaneity does not exist either. After all, you experience time differently depending on the mutual speed of those who observe or experience time. The same thing happens and you see the same thing, but not necessarily in the same order. And that means time is relative.

If time is relative, then we are trying to measure something that cannot be measured. Or do we only emphasize certain aspects of time and juxtapose them with our transience, the way in which we experience time from cradle to grave. The realization that time is more then becomes important as a given. Perhaps time does not exist, but we should speak of ‘times’.

Clock time versus perception of time

The theory of philosopher Henri Bergson, among others, states that there are at least two different times. The clock time, with successive units of time that are not related in themselves (from outside). This indicates the time, but is not time in itself. And then there is the intuitive time. This concerns the experience of time or time perception and coincides with the perception (from within) of time. Like a snowball, time is formed, so to speak, from all the time of your past, fused together. Or as music, which flows like time, with each moment arising and flowing from the next, with the entire composition, the melody transcending the successive notes. Time, conceived in this way, is not linear, but all-encompassing. And therefore not to have it. It cannot take place or fit into anything. Common terms to summarize our everyday thinking about time. We see time or just like space. And yet we put it on a straight line of order in units of time. But according to Bergson, time alone is expensive and not space. We are the time instead of having the time. Because, he says, time is constantly moving, while a location is fixed. And because time is so bound to the experience of the subject, it cannot exist apart from it, as space can. Experiencing and remembering are inextricably linked. We experience time and create it at the same time, because we remember it. Without experience and memory, in short, there is no time in Henri Bergson’s vision. Experiencing is telling.

Albert Einstein called Bergson’s intuitive time psychological time. And thus more or less dismissed her as irrelevant. As indicated, he had his own ideas about time and space (and spacetime, as already mentioned). While Bergson had hoped that intuition as a method would bring progress to philosophy as a science, the opposite turned out to be the case. Einstein’s theory of relativity was proven right and thus also pitted the natural sciences and the humanities against each other. Understandable in retrospect, but did it make sense?

In any case, the fact is that general and independent clock time, time based on physical laws, was considered increasingly important compared to our individual intuitive time experience. The distance between the two times increased. Especially since the introduction of the Greenwich time in 1884. This Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) ensured that the same time was used in different countries. From 1972, this was replaced by the Coordinated Universal Time or Temps Universel Coordonné (abbreviated to: UTC as a compromise between English and French), because it is based on the atomic clock, which is more precise. This is the current international standard.

Clock time is the time we are talking about when we say ,time is money,. This is how we measure what we do, whether we do enough and whether we are successful: the busier our agendas, the more we do with our time. But time is mainly understood economically. While time is so much more, because what is time if you don’t experience it?

Time is experience

Because of all the attention to clock time, you seem to be able to capture time in fixed units, which tick neatly from the past to the future. Time then runs like a straight line towards the end point, death. Before that happens, we still want everything. However, time is not ‘linear’. It has no beginning and no end point. No matter how you try to catch a glimpse of the future, there are too many uncertain factors. You don’t know the future, only the past is known. So all your effort to get a grip on the future is based on the past and the now. You can only take into account those factors that play a role in the past and today. But are you sure that these will continue to play a role? And if so, in the same way? This would make you say that time is a repetition of the past and not a new time. Can that ever be true?

What if you don’t quantify time, but rather emphasize its quality? Dwells on time itself. The inner time, as Joke Hermsen calls it. So as a counterbalance to clock time, consciously deal with your time and the way you experience it or want to experience it.

According to this point of view, thinking from the time perception, time is not linear, but meandering, wandering: an endless viewing and experiencing. Not conquering or focused on an end or center. Not to want to ‘understand’ or want to ‘control’. Time is then understood as a searching movement that does not know in advance where it leads or where it ends, but is always alert to the hidden meaning that presents itself in the searching movement itself, as theologian Thijs Caspers in his book Home in the Unknown ( 2018) argues. Because you really continue to see the fullness and beauty of the world. You continue to admire. You continue to be amazed. And not with the need to understand, but to really see and perceive it. This way you can tune in to the meaning contained in it. This meaning is inherent in everything, but not the same for everyone, because you assign it yourself. This offers us a different perspective on time: It is not about planning and controlling our lives. Time does not have to be bridged to get from A to B. Time is the journey and the destination in one, where we meandering attune ourselves to a meaning that is already present, but which we often overlook due to the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Then it is not about what we do with our time, measured in productivity, economy and results, but how we experience and use our time. Our experience is central. In this way we can, as it were, grasp time without understanding it.

Experience is time

Joke Hermsen also made this distinction between clock time and inner or intuitive time (in Kairos and even earlier in Stil de Tijd) (and also quoted Henri Bergson). She emphasizes the importance of personal and inner interpretations of time: of rest, boredom, attention and waiting; experiences that receive little appreciation in the current economic era, aimed at man as a consumer/producer, but have been regarded since ancient times as important conditions for the thinking and creativity of man as a developing individual. Only when we do nothing does the space of thought and creativity open up, says Joke Hermsen. It is not without reason that the word school is derived from scholè, which means rest and leisure. This gives a romantic image of the time and its experience. As if we only find our true freedom by consciously standing still and surrendering to time. From this surrender we are born as free people: from now on we live in our own personal time. Our intuition ensures that we can experience not only our own life, but also that of others. Because intuition allows us to put ourselves in the shoes of something or someone else. From the inside (yours or someone else’s) to the outside.

But time must be lived. It’s usually about what you do with it, not how you experience it. We have to get from A to B, from Monday to Tuesday and throughout the week, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., working days versus weekends. The experience of time, experiencing or experiencing time, sometimes no longer even seems to matter. While our own experience of time is different. Time flows from our experience, it flows, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly, even though we divide it into exactly equal parts, such as seconds or minutes, hours or days, weeks, months or years. These notations do not do justice to our experience of time or our consciousness of time. When we smell a certain scent, we travel effortlessly through time, back to grandma’s kitchen, where the lavender we smelled reminded us of.

And yet: we are the time. This also means that all attempts to capture and control time are doomed to failure. Especially if we want to be productive with our time, if we want to manage it to use our time as efficiently and effectively as possible, then time is erratic. A brilliant idea comes just when we are in the shower at home or when we are bored or watching television after having spent eight hours in the office trying to figure out the solution to a problem. If time is not absolute and essentially unmeasurable, but tied to the individual’s perspective on it, then what? In short: how do we experience time?

Time sometimes seems to stand still

The ambiguity in the experience of time provoked the French philosopher Vladimir Jankélévitch (1902-1985) (student of Henri Bergson) to remark: Time seems long to us and life seems short to us. How can such short years consist of so long days? This experience of long days, that is our normal experience of time. Although somewhat depending on our age. Time seems to slow down under very exciting circumstances or when there are many new (first) impressions. A car accident or a party, for example. But even if we don’t pay attention at all and little or nothing happens. Waiting for a bus or train is an example of this. So we can also save time by doing nothing. At least in our experience. Compared to the clock time, we are just wasting our time and we may even have to make up for it later.

Douwe Draaisma explains the delayed perception of time as follows: The perception of time works according to a U-curve, the scientist explains. At the ends of the curve, formed by the extremely stimulus-rich or extremely stimulus-poor periods, time slows down the most. In between, the perception of time is fairly normal. This also applies to longer units of time. You have many memories from your adolescence, because many new things happened then, all of which you consciously experienced and kept in your memory. You have turned all these fragments and events into one or more memories. All those times that you went out on the weekends as a student have become a memory in which you have combined all kinds of parts of each of these experiences into a memory: how nice it was to eat together in your student house before going out, how you went out, danced and drank and how great it was to fry an egg the next afternoon with a hangover.

Time seems to pass faster as you get older, when you experience and remember things less intensely. Doing and experiencing new or unknown things seems to give you more time, as it were. Even as you get older. Especially as you get older, it is important not to feel like time is closing in on you. You can counter this with resignation and surrender, as Wilhelm Schmidt argues in his ‘Small philosophy of aging’ (2016). By not wanting to influence or control everything, but to surrender to what you do, you open yourself up to the essence (not I, but the other(s); not who, but what; not when, but why) and experience the time optimally.

Experiencing time as adventure and routine

Vladimir Jankélévitch distinguished three experiences of time: play or adventure, seriousness and boredom (L’aventure, l’ennui, le sérieus). You can enjoy the time by immersing yourself in the adventure, you can pass the time by being bored or you can take the time seriously. And it is precisely in the seriousness, work and worries and other obligations that the humor emerges that brings the tragic and comic sides of life into a higher unity. We often associate seriousness most with real life. In all our restlessness, we are ruled by our agenda. School, study, work dominate our days. Shopping, eating, sleeping. Watching television, using the smartphone, gaming. One day is like another, everything flows together. In short: our lives are a routine of everyday life. In our world there is a call for adventure as a counter-movement: travel, visit festivals and experience special things.

According to Gusman and Kleinherenbrink (2018), such an adventure follows a fixed structure based on the hero stories we know from films and literature, among others. That story template tells about an unknown world in which the hero ends up and must carry out his or her assignment and then return as master of two worlds. Everything revolves around adventure, nothing happens by chance. While there are so many meaningless moments in real life, without this meaning that life itself is meaningless. But not on an adventure. Then everything has meaning. The return from such an adventure is always accompanied by new insights and new energy for everyday life. This simultaneously reinforces the mundaneness and routine of the rest of the time and the call to break out. A vicious circle.

… And boredom as an experience of time

Besides seriousness and adventure, boredom is also part of real life. Many people want to get rid of boredom immediately. Not good for anything, people think. But that is not the case, as mentioned earlier. Jankelevic emphasizes the usefulness of boredom even more. Boredom sharpens our consciousness. Of ourselves as people and of our timeliness. By fully experiencing the moment of boredom, we can find time again. In the realization of our temporality or finitude, we can let go of our desires and truly surrender to inner time. So to cope well with our everyday lives, we should not escape into adventures, but allow ourselves to be overcome by boredom. Dare to experience time as time is his advice. Only then do we come close to ourselves and our inner intuitive time and find ourselves again. And the time to do something of our own accord.

Restlessness and boredom

We are restless, as Ignaas Devisch put it in his book Restlessness (2016). We always want to move forward. Never satisfied with the status quo, we always want to achieve more. This sometimes makes us feel trapped in time. And not because rest and boredom versus busyness should be brought closer together, but because restlessness, as it were, watches over the continuum from boredom to busy. Only in boredom can we face time as it is, so pure (the true experience in terms of Heidegger Dasein). Restlessness should not be confused with unrest, indicates Ignaas Devisch (2016). Unrest can be fueled by a society in which such conditions and demands apply, in which what we do is never enough. This can lead to apathy. Restlessness is actually fueled by a longing, a hope that things can be better, the desire to find a balance between being busy and doing nothing. Being restless is not necessarily negative, but it only becomes so when we ask too much of ourselves, or when too much is asked of us. Feeling that you are being driven by a restless desire to do something is also beautiful and provides direction. If only you can recover every now and then. Just do nothing or experience the peace and quiet. No matter how difficult that is. Because soon we want ‘something’ or we get bored.

Boredom Boredom can be evoked externally and internally. When we don’t know how to start something, we can get bored in the anticipation of starting an activity. Like the calm before the storm, the inner calm when we tolerate boredom often sparks a creative surge. Procrastination takes on an additional function.

Sometimes it is said that we walk with our soul under our arm when we are bored. We then experience a kind of existential boredom. We are almost too much ourselves. But this boredom can also be inspiring. We look for direction.

Too little external stimuli or too much repetition can also cause boredom: situational boredom. The latter types of boredom seem more negative, but they also allow you to expand your inner space by experiencing your inner time. And that makes you creative. So boredom is not actually a feeling that needs to be chased away, but a personal experience of slowing down time, in which you become receptive to the core of time, your own time, your own self. A movement outwards from within yourself, in contrast to the movement where you always look for new stimuli. This zapping culture can also lead to creativity, but the continuous line from your deepest being is constantly interrupted. Can you go as deep as necessary to understand something or yourself?


If we open the moment of time, if we look for peace, nature, music, art will help us find it. We can immerse ourselves in this with all our senses, experiencing and experiencing a timeless experience. Like when you start a walk in nature. In the beginning you look around frantically to take in everything. You look for stimuli, you are amazed. Everything is equally special. But then, after a while, you notice that almost all the grass is green or greener, that one tree looks quite similar to another, and seeing a deer again is different from seeing one for the first time. Boredom sets in. Do you think. That boredom is not negative.

Because when you keep walking, you allow yourself to become absorbed in nature. You can experience your environment from your own perspective. You no longer have to see anything new or special, you are no longer bored. Instead, you experience the forest, meadow or heath from walking, from yourself. Nature doesn’t have to come to you, you go. And in this way you also get to know yourself more. You become, as it were, one with your environment. But you’re both there. And together. Space is created within yourself, which you may have first experienced as a feeling of emptiness, hence the boredom you experienced, but now gives way to creativity, innovation and inspiration.

Timeless experience

You experience time from your own experience, but you also see it around you. The landscape is also time, the time of the moment, of the season, of us as people on the paths of transience. Repetitive perhaps, but never static, as David Hockney says. Nature is always different. Everything is equally fleeting, bound to the moment and at the same time timeless, due to our experience in which we fix temporary, short-lived moments into a constant and lasting existence in time. The landscape as solidified time, the perpetual temporality of our experience, which we can experience, but cannot hold on to. No matter how mindful we are, no matter how we keep trying. It is precisely in nature itself, in the moment, that we can experience the eternity of life. And that also applies to art, to music, which allows us to experience life and time in a different way. Art, music and nature can also reinforce each other. It is not without reason that during the David Hockney exhibition in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam from March 1 to May 26, 2019, you could listen to part of David Hockney’s playlist, which allowed you to experience the paintings even more intensely. And the nature that he painted large and colorful. As long as we open ourselves up to it. Without boring us. Usually then. And if we do get bored, what luck!

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