How the Hourglass Helps Me Think About the Past, the Future, and the Now
September 18, 2022
It takes around two minutes for the sand or liquid from the top chamber of a standard hourglass to completely drip to its bottom chamber. But the largest hourglass in the world, built in 1991, takes exactly 365 days to do the same.
The Nima Sand Museum Hourglass in Japan is 5.2-meter-tall and weighted at 560 kilograms with a diameter of 1 meter. It's filled with over 629 billion grains of singing sands with a total weight of a ton—almost twice as heavier as the hourglass itself.
The architecture team sifted the sand to ensure that each grain measured an average of 0.11 millimeters flows continuously through a nozzle measuring 0.84 millimeters in diameter. So that it precisely measures the duration of a year.
The hourglass first appeared in Europe in the eighth century. And has been commonly used as the instrument to measure intervals of time from the early fourteenth century to the fifteenth century. While we no longer use the hourglass as much as we used to nowadays, it's a great metaphor to help us think about the time we have in our lives.
The past and the future
Sometimes I want to hit the reverse button and change a few things from the past. And there are times when I want to fast forward and reveal my life months and years ahead from now.
If you ever feel the same, this simple mental exercise is for you.
Imagine an hourglass right in front of you. Sands drip from the top chamber to the bottom chamber. The top chamber is the future. The bottom chamber is the past.
Regardless of how much you want your past to be different, it's set in stone and will never change. And irrespective of how much you want the future to come sooner, it takes time and follows the course of nature. All you have is now, this exact moment.
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.
Don't break the now
This realization makes today even more precious. And because of that, we tend to squeeze everything we want to have and get done into one single day. Before you do that, pull your mind back to the hourglass again.
Sands drip through the narrow neck from the top chamber to the bottom chamber. The top chamber is the future. The bottom chamber is the past. And the narrow neck where the grains of sand flow through is now. Each grain of sand flows through the narrow neck in its order. There's nothing you can do to squeeze more through the neck—unless you break the hourglass.
While we have some control over our lives today, there are limitations to how much we can do in a day. You get to do what you get to do now. Nothing more and nothing less. If you insist, you might clog up the flow or, worse, break yourself.