This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 edition of Centrepiece.
The Dalai Lama loves his watch. I love mine.
His Holiness sports a yellow gold Rolex Day-Date with a lapis lazuli dial. Mine is a Casio Illuminator ($6, on sale). The spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism owns 15 Rolexes. I own three Casios.
His is not Buddhist bling but a tool representing simplicity and reliability. Mine is not athletic accoutrement but a gauge of life’s impermanence. In timepieces, the head of Tibet’s government-in-exile and I favor function over flash.
To own a watch is to have a relationship. “My watch has no affection for me,” says the Dalai Lama, “but because it helps me I appreciate it, protect it, even cherish it.”
Likewise, love for my watch may be unrequited but at least it’s mutual respect. It earns affection by assuming the temporal burden of my existence. It alarms mornings, ends meditations, counts up in the gym, and counts down in the pool.
Its face is the last thing I see at night and the first thing I see at day.
And what a face! World weary, scuffed and scarred, etched with character from life’s collisions.
“Alas, after a certain age every man is responsible for his face,” wrote Albert Camus. (Chanel named a watch after a Camus novel.) Equally true of watches.
Point is: the face changes, it just looks the same. Likewise with selves.
Think for a second about your pre-Centre and post-Centre selves. Were you the same person in your final year as your first? Did you exit as the same person who entered? (If so, go back and start again.) Your past incarnations don’t exist now. All gone, replaced with another rendition of you.
Recall the ideas, opinions, and attitudes that you held before, during, and now, after Centre. Remember those certainties to which you once clung but have since released; those views you absolutely knew to be true but now doubt; those cherished beliefs that evaporated when irradiated by evidence; those deep convictions overturned by new realities. Now congratulate yourself for acquiring wisdom.
With every flicker a watch directs us to say au revoir to our idées fixes. With each tick it affirms that you can never create an unassailable identity, a static self or a permanent position of status that guarantees happiness or security. A watch reminds us that college always ends, commencement always arrives. The “yet-to-come” is on its way.
“True nobility is being superior to one’s former self,” said Hemingway (also a Rolex man), whose only two steadfast companions in his turbulent life were his writing and his wristwatch.
Comparing you to you is the only legitimate comparison, the only one that matters, the only one over which you have supervision.
Your Centre “self” is but one of many selves, like tenants occupying a building. The tenancy changes as your inner residents move in and out. You just collect the rent and maintain the edifice. (Edifice, a Casio watch for people “who live in the moment!”) A watch demarcates this habitat of selves. It marks expiring selves from emerging selves, that self to which we’re en route.
“Having learned, become who you are” wrote ancient Greek poet Pindar (a sundial man). Timeless advice for tertiary degree holders.
Listen to your watch. It’s saying, let go of those fixed reference points by which you define yourself. They were useful props but you need them no longer. A watch says, savor a moment but don’t cling to it; it’s ephemeral and besides, it just passed.
Bob Dylan sang, “You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”
I say, you don’t have to be a watchmaker to know which way that time flows.
Tibet’s No. 1 horophile says, “The goal is not to be better than the other person, but your previous self.”
I say, as long as you can look at your watch, there’s still time.
by Duff Watkins ’77
February 10, 2020
Duff Watkins ’77 is director of ExecSearch International-Australia and lives in Sydney. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.