Jack Kornfield: “The trouble is, you think you have time.”

Jack Kornfield, in Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, says, “The trouble is, you think you have time.” In other words, we put off important things, assuming that we can do them later. But there may not be any “later.” Life is short; make good use of it.

This quote is often attributed to the Buddha, but it’s not something he said. It’s Jack Kornfield’s adaptation of something from Carlos Castaneda’s fictional Don Juan in his third book, “Journey to Ixtlan,” where the shaman says:

There is one simple thing wrong with you – you think you have plenty of time … If you don’t think your life is going to last forever, what are you waiting for? Why the hesitation to change?

The resemblance isn’t coincidental — Jack makes reference to this quote in one of his talks.

Recognizing that our time here is brief can help us appreciate life and see what the important things are. One of the things the Buddha encouraged us to do was to reflect on our own impermanence, and how, in the light of that, it’s important that we take responsibility for our lives.

Life is short; make good use of it. When people hear this they sometimes think it means “life is short, have as much fun as possible.” But if you really take on board how brief our time here is, you’re also forced to recognize what’s truly most valuable. And for most of us that’s loving, being loved, and living meaningfully. “Fun” comes much further down the list. Love and meaning, it turns out, are more fun than fun itself.

Notice your breathing, aware that each breath comes only once. Each breath is unique. Being aware that the breath you’re taking right now will never come again makes it seem more significant and worthy of attention.

In fact, as you pay attention to your breathing, try noticing how each moment is unique. That moment, and that moment, and that moment—each one flits by. Each one is precious. This may sound like a platitude until you “get” it. Then it’s a simple and profound truth: each moment is precious.

Think about those around you, about those close to you, about those you’re connected to with ties of blood or love. Think about those who barely register in your attention, and about those you don’t like. Every one of them is going to die. And you’re going to die.

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Life is unpredictable. When you’re with someone, you have no idea if you’ll ever see each other again. Everyone you see today—this may your last encounter. And maybe you should behave as if it was. What last impression, what last words, would you like them to have of you, should either of you die tomorrow?

As I often say, “Life is short; be kind“.

Try adopting as a mantra, “We may never meet again.” Let yourself feel vulnerable and tender. Let yourself feel affection. Let yourself appreciate others’ basic goodness. Let your tendency to focus on the negative fall away, and recognize that you’re surrounded by good people who are struggling to find happiness in a world where true happiness is rare. Let yourself love.

The trouble is, you think you’ll have time to love later, and you might not, so behave as if you don’t have time to waste, and let yourself love: Now.

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12 Comments. Leave new

  • So true! Time is not always on our side. I love this: Life is short; make good use of it. Good words! Thank you!

    Reply
  • This is beautiful and revealing. As attuned as I am to the passage of time and the impermanence of life’s moments I’d never given a thought to the idea that each breath is also unrepeatable. Thank you.

    Reply
  • thank you very much…. sending love to you for these words

    Reply
  • Alvis O Grady , Jr.
    June 22, 2018 3:08 pm

    The importance of your words arrived at a very timely moment.

    Reply
  • Amjad Hussain
    June 5, 2019 11:20 am

    Thankyou

    Reply
  • Thanks for this wonderful message. Take my love.

    Reply
  • Gabriel Khan
    April 2, 2021 1:25 pm

    This has changed my life

    Reply
  • Sensible stuff.

    Reply
  • I found that after the loss of my mother who I was so close to, I have really struggled, she died February 2021 we where there in the hospital, and I was fighting right to the end to find a way of saving her. I still can’t handle the loss, I have lost people I ahve been very close to before and well before their time,y grand perhaps went unexpectedly, and all of the hurt I cried I felt pain for a long time but nothing compares to this loss. I find it hard to appreciate the time I had when all I think is I will never see her again. I have always been a deep thinker since I was young, not religious though, which I have to say I jealous of epically now that the ignorance of religion must be comforting. I look back on my life with my grandparents and have little to no regrets other than them being taken far to early, I was 19 when my last grandpernar died, I used to see them all the time I used to walk every lunch time from school to see them. Every Saturday we went to theirs as a family. It definitely helped, as I felt I had done everything I could to spend time them…. Time is something you never grt back, you can’t replay it or hold in to it. I used to be terrified of dying (I still am) but I found that loosing the ones you love is far more terrifying.

    Reply
  • Haha, Brother, the Trouble is you think there is time, It means there is “no time” at all, which means to be in the present, no past and future, just live, So don’t worry about prioritizing and worrying about anything, just be, …I’m a yoga therapist from south India, And during my 8hrs meditations realized there is “no time”, and I guess buddha told this only.

    Reply
    • Hi, Raj.

      If you read the full quote that Jack Kornfield is paraphrasing, it continues, “If you don’t think your life is going to last forever, what are you waiting for? Why the hesitation to change?” The quote is not about time not existing. It’s about our deluded assumption that we don’t need to do important things now because we’ll have time later. Or as the Buddha said, “Ardently do today what must be done. Who knows? Tomorrow, death comes.”

      All the best,
      Bodhipaksa

      Reply

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