We are all familiar with objective, or “clock” time. But beneath this – in fact, what makes our perception of objective time possible in the first place, is our underlying reflectiveness of existential or “lived” time. Existential time is our self-awareness of relational time. It’s the feeling as though time is racing when we’re parting with a loved one at the airport; where every second seems as though it is only a fraction of itself, and we find our self “out of time;” or, on the other hand, it’s the sensation that time has come to a near-complete halt as we impatiently await our turn in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.
Existential time is primordial; it is our temporal way of being in the world. The three-fold structure of time itself (past, present, and future), is the horizon upon which the Self is able to become aware of itself as a self. Indeed, the entirety of the landscape of our being is so inter-connected that without it we could not even have the most basic or pre-ontological understanding of our own being.
Existential time is always experienced as relational. In this sense, we can think of our past as always changing. In one sense, we represent our past to ourselves in the form of memories… some may stick with us forever, while others are nearly forgotten and distant. Yet, my relation to these memories has a definite and direct impact on my mode of being in the world. How I interpret my past will play itself out in my comportment towards the world and the Others. Yet at the same time, I am constantly re-interpreting my past as a result of simply existing.
Kierkegaard makes reference to this phenomenon when he describes the experience of feeling “eternity in Time” in the “Instant.” This refers to the “Instant” (which should not be confused with any definitive measurement in objective/clock time) when an individual commits himself to his own defining commitment, which in turn gives his life meaning to him. From that point forward, the individual not only sees his present and future possibilities through his defining commitment – but he also reinterprets the collective moments of his past through the lens of his new-found defining commitment. To illustrate, when one falls in love with someone, and that other person becomes their defining commitment, they re-define themselves through their commitment, including their own past, which may now look as though it was all meaningless and pointless up to the point in time they fell in love.
As the Self experiences the new possibilities of being the world, it re-interprets itself, and is always already engaged in a continuous process of “becoming itself.” Accordingly, one’s own reflective awareness of existential time is constantly changing on account of the fact that the Self, which is always anticipating itself ahead of itself into the future, is living through the possibilities disclosed through attunement and expectation. In this way, we commit ourselves to having certain expectations and “hopes” with respect to the future on account of our mood or attunement towards the past which in turn shapes our perception of future possibility.