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Why Is Time Management Important? Time Management Lessons from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

What shall I do with my time? What are you going to do with yours? This is one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves. It is a question that necessitates a bit of inquiry.


“This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

What shall I do with my time? What are you going to do with yours? This is one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves. It is a question that necessitates a bit of inquiry. If I am to help you discover the key to time management, you must ponder a few things with deep concentration. Let’s begin.

My first issue concerns the use of the term time-management. I think it misses the crux of the matter. We don’t manage time…as far as I have experienced it, time flows on, or we flow through it, uniteruptedly. We don’t control time. It devours us. What we can control is ourselves as we flow through time. When thinking about time we cannot help but ponder death. Death and time are brothers, they go together. Death can create angst as it reinforces the fleeting nature of time. 

So, the issue is not time management. It is self- management. How to manage ourselves? And why manage ourselves?

This is where time can help us. Time is in fact not something we need to control, it is something we need to utilize. Time is magical; it brings change.

Time management is essential for the achievement of goals in life. Time is also essential to enjoy what we have achieved. Some people are on the hamster wheel of desire thinking that the next achievement is going to bring happiness. Learning to enjoy and honor our achievement is also essential and requires time.

“So much of our time is spent in preparation, so much in routine, and so much in retrospect, that the amount of each person’s genius is confined to a very few hours.”


The genius to which Emerson refers is the part of our being that, when nourished by our time and activity, floods us with satisfaction. And just like we each have a unique moment in time we each have a unique genius that is nourished in a unique way. For me it is writing and meditating that nourishes my genius. At those times I feel there is no where else I would rather be or be doing. By retrospect I take Emerson to be meaning time spent in reflection upon the past. We need to reflect upon the past to learn and yet we can also become lost in thinking about what has been or what we would have likes to have happened. Either way, it takes time.

To exist in society, to house, feed and clothe ourselves takes the majority of our day and occupies our bodies and minds. That leaves precious little time to nourish our genius, our soul. This fact leads to the key to time management.

“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” –Emerson

Everything boils down to choices. Our choices define our lives. We find ourselves in situations and relationships, often apparently for reasons beyond our control and defined by the family we are born into, the spirit of the times, the city and country into which we were born. We cannot always control how we arrive in a given situation but we can make conscious choices once we are in them. 

My polestar for decisions is the feeling of satisfaction. Often the choices we need to make are very challenging. Emerson’s quote can help you to muster up the courage to make them. Time is finite. Too late, comes to quickly. Live with your best discretion knowing that there may be no tomorrow. Who wants to die with regrets?

How shall we make our choices? In discussing this with a friend she stressed the importance of managing self and time gracefully. When we act with grace we are fluid and in balance, if we overburden ourselves we fall off kilter, we lose our poise, our grace. We do the same if we put ourselves under undo pressure. Managing our lives with grace allows life to flow. Winds its way gracefully, we can do the same. After all, we are 75% water!

Once these ideas are assimilated you will find time management to be very simple. The essential ideas:

  • This is your life, your unique moment in history.
  • You cannot control the overarching circumstances but you can make decisions about your life.
  • Find what gives you abiding satisfaction.
  • Flow with grace.
  • Time is limited. Act now!

**Read our other articles about Emerson’s works!

A Complete Poem Analysis of Emerson’s Brahma.

Brahma was written by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), a spiritual and intellectual giant of American history. In this 16- line poem we are able to explore significant foundations of Eastern and Western philosophy.


The essence of spirituality and Hinduism is synthesized in the poem Brahma by the American philosopher, writer and poet Emerson. This poem touches on essential themes of metaphysics and spirituality while simultaneously being applicable to our daily lives.

Brahma was written by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), a spiritual and intellectual giant of American history. In this 16- line poem we are able to explore significant foundations of Eastern and Western philosophy. Emerson and his fellow Transcendentalists, including Henry David Thoreau and Bronson Alcott, were among the first in America to explore the crown jewels of Indian philosophy: the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita. The Bhagavad-Gita dates back to before the time of Christ, and recounts the conversation between the spiritual teacher Krishna and his heroic disciple Arjuna on the battle field of Kurushetra in ancient India. The Upanishads may well predate ancient Egypt and weave spiritual lessons into timeless stories including the tale of Nachiketas journeying into the realm of death to atone for the sins of his father. In Nachiketas discussion with Yama, the Lord of Death, the mysteries of life and death are revealed.

These two source writings can provide a lifetime of inspiration. Swami Vivekananda, one of the first Indian yogis to come to America, first speaking at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, carried with him two books from India. One was the Bhagavad-Gita.

Take a slow read through the poem written by Emerson in 1856, five years before the start of the Civil War, and then we will explore the main themes and see how we can apply them to our lives.

By Ralph Waldo Emerson

If the red slayer think he slays, 
  Or if the slain think he is slain, 
They know not well the subtle ways 
  I keep, and pass, and turn again. 

Far or forgot to me is near;
  Shadow and sunlight are the same; 
The vanished gods to me appear; 
  And one to me are shame and fame. 

They reckon ill who leave me out; 
  When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt, 
  And I the hymn the Brahmin sings. 

The strong gods pine for my abode, 
  And pine in vain the sacred Seven; 
But thou, meek lover of the good!
  Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

I will take one stanza at a time in order to unravel the depth and beauty of this poem.

First Stanza: The Eternal Nature of the Soul

The poem speaks in the first person. It is the voice of one who has reached the pinnacle of spiritual illumination. The insights echo first hand experiences of illumined saints and sages from all traditions while the imagery and framework are from Hinduism. It is also the voice of Brahma, who in the Hindu religion is the ultimate God. Hinduism has many gods, just as the Bible has many saints and angels and archangels; but the supreme God in Christianity is the Father and in Hinduism the word used is Brahma.

The red slayer can represent anyone who kills and the message of the first stanza is that death is not the end of existence. Most people live in constant fear of growing old and death. We fear pain and the idea of non-existence. Our society pushes death away from our eyes while glorifying youth. Death is a transition to a more subtle realm and from the careful observation of the death process we can learn so much. The red slayer is also symbolic of Kali the Hindu goddess of death and transformation. She is often portrayed carrying a sword with blood dripping from it; hence the red-slayer.

Emerson approaches the immortality of the soul both from the vantage point of he who thinks he can destroy others: the red slayer, and the vantage point of she who fears death. The “subtle ways” referred to is the subtle existence of the soul, which is hidden from the view of most people because their minds are bounded by material objects.

Second Stanza: Non-Duality

The second stanza is from the same point of view but this stanza reflects the viewpoint of one who has transcended duality. The four dualistic conceptions that no longer affect the speaker are far/ near; remembered/ forgotten; shadow/ sunlight; vanished / appearing; and shame / fame.

Dualistic thinking emerges from undifferentiated consciousness. Through meditation and deep prayer one can enter the realm of pure consciousness. In that state there is no duality; hence fame and shame are the same.

Think of a glass of water. The water is one entity. If you shake the glass there will be waves and water will splash, that is the moment of duality. If you see only the splashes you will think of the water as separate units but if you know the source you will know that ultimately all the water is one. It is the same with shame and fame. They appear different yet at a deeper level they are both the same: human experience from which we grow.

The second stanza points to the idea that ultimately the differences we observe in ourselves and the world dissolve as we begin to understand that our mind itself is the creator of what we perceive and the differences we observe.

The same principle applies the physical world: that which was lost can become found and that which was near can become far. What is far from one person can be near to another. Hence reality depends on our vantage point and how we relate to our vantage point is determined by our minds, not by any external control system.

Third Stanza: All is God

These four lines speak to the idea that all activity, efforts and results are ultimately the same energy. I am reminded of the story of a man who had been though a troubled time and he looked back upon his journey and saw his footsteps in the sand and thought, “Why did God leave me all alone in this time of trail.” God’s voice answered back, “Those are my footstep, I carried you through the challenges.”

Hopefully we get daily inspiration to read, exercise, pray and do other things that give us joy. We think it is us who need to create the inspiration. The poem says that ultimately all comes from the Source. There is no difference between the seeker, the prayer offered and the God who hears it. The poem says, “I am the doubter and the doubt.” Normally we think of ourselves as separate from our thoughts and our thoughts separate from the world. This stanza says that ultimately all is one and that the Ultimate energy is in the each aspect of our devotion and aspiration: “And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.” Brahmins are the priestly class in Indian society.

Fourth Stanza: The Meek Shall Inherit the World

The final stanza proclaims the majesty of the “meek lover of the good.” Brahma says that many long to enter the ultimate realm of existence but that it is the individual who is meek and loves goodness that will be able to enter the realm of the truly sacred. This echoes Jesus’ teachings from the Sermon on the Mount.

Notice the last line, “Find me and turn your back on heaven.” The insight here is that heaven is a conception in our minds, a thought based dream, a hope, that we carry with us. In experiencing the realm of Brahma the seeker goes beyond the world of thought and has the direct experience of the Ultimate Reality. At that time one goes beyond ideas and conceptions and hence can “turn your back on heaven,” and instead be in the Ultimate.

In Conclusion

It is important to note that Emerson was not writing from a theoretical or solely scholarly vantage point. In his essay Nature Emerson recounts a mystical experience that he has while walking through the woods on afternoon: his third eye, the mind’s eye of internal vision, opens up and he describes the experience of being able to see in all directions, and to see the cosmos spinning.

He wrote: “Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”

This transcendental experience is open to each one of us. It only requires that we spend time contemplating the meaning and significance of our lives. Prayer, meditation, yoga and other spiritual practices can accelerate our ability to access this level of awareness.

*Read our other collections of articles on the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Sujantra McKeever is the founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego, which serves over 1,000 yogis a week, and also helped create Pilgrimage Yoga Online. He is the author of five books on eastern philosophy, success and meditation. Sujantra studied meditation with spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy and has lectured on meditation and yoga in over 30 countries.

Hamatreya Poem Meaning: Ruminations on a Ralph Waldo Emerson Poem

Hamatreya is a poem that Emerson wrote in the mid 1800’s and expresses the reality of humankind’s relationship to nature.


Hamatreya is a poem that Emerson wrote in the mid-1800’s.

Its message is well worth contemplation in our day and age as individuals and nations reckon with the forces of nature. Well beyond ideology or opinion, the poem expresses the reality of humankind’s relationship to nature. The core theme of the poem was taken from Emerson’s reading of ancient Hindu writings.

The poem in its entirety appears at the end of this essay.

Emerson guides us to see the futility in our boasting and pride and points towards an awareness of the cycle of life. Earth is given a voice in this poem. This awareness of earth’s living relationship to each of us is essential for any meaningful discussion of humankind’s relationship to nature.

The poem has three voices: the earth, the impartial narrator and a voice that reflects, in the last stanza, on the power of the earth’s song. The poem begins with the narrator speaking for various men of the time and their pride at possessing that which they own: their properties, orchards, dogs and families and their resounding belief in their ownership: “Tis mine, my children’s and my name’s…my trees…my hill…my dog.”

The narrator then ponders: “Where are these men? Asleep beneath their grounds.” The narrator drives home his point: “Earth laughs in flowers, to see her boastful boys/Earth-proud, proud of the earth which is not theirs;/Who steer the plough, but cannot steer their feet/Clear of the grave.” Emerson’s wisdom exposes the vain and fleeting pride of human beings when it comes to their relationship to the earth.

Emerson then ratchets up the poem to another level of intensity with a sub-section that he titles Earth-Song. In it the narrator continues in the theme of exposing the futile vanity of possession and then gives voice to the earth: “They called me theirs,/Who so controlled me;/Yet every one/Wished to stay, and is gone,/How am I theirs, If they cannot hold me, /But I hold them?”

The poem ends with the narrator reflecting on all he has heard and learnt upon hearing the earth speak:

When I heard the Earth-song,

I was no longer brave;

My avarice cooled

Like lust in the chill of the grave.

The entire poem:

Hamatreya by Ralph Waldo Emmerson

Bulkeley, Hunt, Willard, Hosmer, Meriam, Flint,
Possessed the land which rendered to their toil
Hay, corn, roots, hemp, flax, apples, wool, and wood.
Each of these landlords walked amidst his farm,
Saying, “’Tis mine, my children’s and my name’s.
How sweet the west wind sounds in my own trees!
How graceful climb those shadows on my hill!
I fancy these pure waters and the flags
Know me, as does my dog: we sympathize;
And, I affirm, my actions smack of the soil.”
Where are these men? Asleep beneath their grounds:
And strangers, fond as they, their furrows plough.
Earth laughs in flowers, to see her boastful boys
Earth-proud, proud of the earth which is not theirs;
Who steer the plough, but cannot steer their feet
Clear of the grave.
They added ridge to valley, brook to pond,
And sighed for all that bounded their domain;
“This suits me for a pasture; that’s my park;
We must have clay, lime, gravel, granite-ledge,
And misty lowland, where to go for peat.
The land is well,—lies fairly to the south.
’Tis good, when you have crossed the sea and back,
To find the sitfast acres where you left them.”
Ah! the hot owner sees not Death, who adds
Him to his land, a lump of mould the more.
Hear what the Earth say:—
          “Mine and yours;
          Mine, not yours.
          Earth endures;
          Stars abide—
          Shine down in the old sea;
          Old are the shores;
          But where are old men?
          I who have seen much,
          Such have I never seen.
          “The lawyer’s deed
          Ran sure,
          In tail,
          To them and to their heirs
          Who shall succeed,
          Without fail,
          “Here is the land,
          Shaggy with wood,
          With its old valley,
          Mound and flood.
          But the heritors?—
          Fled like the flood’s foam.
          The lawyer and the laws,
          And the kingdom,
          Clean swept herefrom.
          “They called me theirs,
          Who so controlled me;
          Yet every one
          Wished to stay, and is gone,
          How am I theirs,
          If they cannot hold me,
          But I hold them?”
When I heard the Earth-song
I was no longer brave;
My avarice cooled
Like lust in the chill of the grave.

*Read our other articles on the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Sujantra McKeever is the founder of Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga in San Diego, which serves over 1,000 yogis a week, and also helped create Pilgrimage Yoga Online. He is the author of five books on eastern philosophy, success and meditation. Sujantra studied meditation with spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy and has lectured on meditation and yoga in over 30 countries.

Philosophy Podcast E34 – Emerson’s Brahma

Join a philosophical exploration of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem, Brahma…


Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 34 – Join a philosophical exploration of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem, Brahma.