Monday, August 31, 2015

Killing Time

"A Day in the Desert"
- abundant riches -

Every time another Monday “rolls around” I reflect on how often I hear people complain about the beginning of a new work-week, lamenting over how boring their mundane life is. They have boring jobs or go to boring classes, or their ordinary tasks around the house like shopping or cleaning are so incredibly boring or, now that they are retired, they are just so bored that they don’t know what to do with themselves.  

For the most part, when people get bored they often find themselves “killing time” as they wait for something better or more exciting to do.  Bored at work, or bored at home or school sometimes people “kill time” by watching TV or playing computer games, texting a friend, maybe aimlessly browsing the web.

I think that the phrase “killing time” is perhaps some of the saddest words I ever hear. The time we “kill” is such a precious gift, such abundant riches to be aimlessly “frittered away.”

We don’t often hear that phrase, “frittering away” nowadays, but I think it so aptly expresses how so many of us spend time in an ordinary day.  Another word for “frittering” is “squandering,” we fritter something away when we use it wastefully.

A young student of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke once came to his mentor to seek advice about how to rise above the dullness of his everyday boring existence.  Rilke advised his student that every single human being is, in fact, a poet. Each and every one of us has the power and the potential to be a “creator” of new life in the most ordinary circumstances of everyday life:

If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself.
Tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches.
You are a creator and to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.

Rilke’s advice to this young man conjures up images for me of the Biblical creation poem found in the Book of Genesis: In the beginning, the “Spirit of God” hovers over the “abyss” from which the Creator calls forth life.  God calls forth light from the darkness and out of the swirling chaos God calls forth oceans and rivers, rocks and trees, plants and animals and human beings.  Creation is an act of “calling forth.” 

Poets are “creators” who call forth the beauty and the richness inherently swirling in the chaos of existence - and we are all poets, we are all creators who are able to call forth the riches of the moment rather than frittering away and killing the time given to us.

I am reminded of something Zen master and Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh once said about the joy, energy and new life he “calls forth” out of the most ordinary everyday tasks of routine life that, on the surface, might be considered to be very boring indeed. He talks about being “mindful” in the simple task of washing the dishes:

I clean this teapot with the kind of attention that I would have
were I giving the Baby Buddha or the Baby Jesus a bath.

If I find myself getting “kinda bored” today, I will not blame life I will blame myself for not being enough of a poet to  “call forth the riches” of the moment.

Today I will try to pay closer attention to my mundane, ordinary life and instead of killing time, I will create new life out of the time given to me.


  1. I did something like that yesterday and do it often. Since I'm unable to go and do 'great' things, I write poetry about the mundane and try to do it in a Taoist sense.

    .Yesterday, like a cat playing with a mouse,
    the storm came and left.
    Today sun shines,
    and the cat lays on the porch licking her paws.

    Who knows about tomorrow?
    I wait.

  2. So true. And it's funny that when my children are bored I tell them to find something to do..and they get creative. And I think that being bored and knowing how to creatively respond to it is a wonderful thing to learn. So, perhaps us adults need to learn that too. Knowing that we can rely on our inner resources, and not be so dependent upon external things to entertain us. Thanks Paul.