It is time for our annual trip to Brittany, where we will stay by the sea with our friends for a week. Our target departure time from home is six-thirty in the evening. I have taken the day off work and have nothing to do but pack for our holiday. Having the equivalent of a full working day to get my gear together seems like a luxury but I am not complacent as there is a common principle at work that I must be mindful of.
Aristotle’s theory that a vacuum could not exist in nature, subsequently labelled with the term plenism, has an analogy in human nature. When contemplating a single task, we tend to expand its execution to fill whatever time we have available.
And so it was with my holiday packing. A job that could have been completed in three hours, had I not had such a generous allocation of time, instead took eight. One perspective might be that, in order to start the winding down process, I should take my time and relax. An alternative one would have me subconsciously slowing my work rate and expanding the activity to occupy the entire time slot.
The principle is not merely restricted to time. It can be applied to all of the limited resources we have at our disposal – including money, energy, health, brain power and opportunities. Instead of striving to use these as efficiently as possible, we extravagantly use up our entire supply – or, at least, too much of it. I believe that we do this because we are inherently lazy or because we are easily distracted and cannot maintain the required level of intensity. Perhaps, also, we have an irrational fear of empty spaces – a condition known as Kenophobia. How, in this state, could we enrich our lives through meditation?
I had planned to have a rest in the afternoon and relax before setting off for the ferry port. But it did not happen. My holiday preparation used up all of my time. This did not seem to matter in the end. After all, my packing performance was first class. Better to do one thing really well, you might say, rather than doing several badly. And we got away in good time. Everything went like clockwork.
But this favourable outcome carried a heavy time cost. If you were blunt, you might assert that I squandered some of my precious time. And as you are aware, The Knot Garden abhors waste. But, unlike Nature, it does not abhor a vacuum.