Tag Archives: Time

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” — Albert Einstein

I recently heard a world-renowned public-speaker say that all the best books he’d read were given to him by others.  He said he made a habit of buying cases full of the books he loved, and giving them to people all along his journey.  “I’ve found this book really added value to my life, and I thought you might appreciate it.”

Recently, a friend handed me a book called The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, by Wade Davis.  (Davis, it just so happens, has the infinitely enviable job title: “National Geographic – Explorer in Residence.”)  Essentially, Davis spends the book introducing the reader to some of our world’s oldest and most ‘exotic’ cultures, and doing what he can to dumb down their ancient philosophies to a level our tiny Western minds might comprehend.

It’s rare that a book hooks me as this one has.

I came to realize, simply by being with Otto and his family, that in a sense the Aboriginal peoples had never been truly nomadic.  To the contrary, they lived locked within the territories delineated by their ancestors.  This was a revelation.  Imagine for a moment if all the genius and intellect of all the generations that have come before you had been concentrated on a single set of tasks, focused exclusively on knowing a particular piece of ground, not only the plants and animals but every ecological, climatic, geographic detail, the pulse of every sentient creature, the rhythm of every breath of wind, the patterns of every season.  This was the norm in Aboriginal Australia. (p. 156)

The Australian Aboriginals are one of the many groups he lived with, developed relationships with, and profiles in great depth.  A common thread that seems to connect the cultures he elucidates is a very intimate connectedness with their environment.  Running in stark contrast to the modern notion of land as a capital asset, for these people the land itself is quite literally alive.  It defines them as living beings, as members of their families and communities, and importantly, as links in a chain that extends backwards and forwards through time.

What linked the clan territories was not the physical movement of peoples but rather the strength of a common idea, a subtle but universal philosophy, a way of thinking.  This was the Dreaming.  It refers on one level, as we have seen, to the first dawning, when the Rainbow Serpent and all the ancestral beings created the world.  And it is remembered in the Songlines, which are the trajectories that these ancestors travelled as they sang the world into being.

But the Songlines, I discovered from Otto, are not straight or linear.  They do no even necessarily exist in three-dimensional space.  In their numbers, however, they weave a web across an entire continent.  For a civilization that lacked the written word they became a record of the past, a promise of the future, and a network that in the moment bound together all people.  The goal of the individual, as Otto taught me, is not to follow the Songline from beginning to end, but to honour the ancestors at the points of power and memory that mark the passage of a Songline through one’s particular clan territory.

But, critically, the Dreaming is not a myth or a memory.  It is what happened at the time of creation, but also what happens now, and what will happen for all eternity.  In the Aboriginal universe there is no past, present, or future.  In not one of the hundreds of dialects spoken at the moment of contact was there a word for time.  There is no notion of linear progression, no goal of improvement, no idealization of the possibility of change.  To the contrary, the entire logos of the Dreaming is stasis, constancy, balance and consistency.  The entire purpose of humanity is not to improve anything.  It is to engage in the ritual and ceremonial activities deemed to be essential for the maintenance of the world precisely as it was at the moment of creation.  Imagine if all of Western intellectual and scientific passion had been focused from the beginning of time on keeping the Garden of Eden precisely as it was when Adam and Eve had their fateful conversation. (p. 157; emphasis added)

I wonder more and more about our culture’s conception of time, articulated perhaps most eloquently in the old adage: “time is money.”  It is very difficult for me, raised in a culture of commoditized time,  to even fathom an existence without “time.”

For thousands of years, our culture – that of intellect, invention, and industry –  has fancied itself as the pinnacle against which all others ought to be measured and to which all others ought to strive. Reading this book has really thrown into stark contrast the transience of many of those things our so-called civilization worships, and the fundamental importance of so much that we ignore, disregard, and belittle.

A world-view without time seems unimaginable, but when such a world-view is placed in its larger context: life lived in harmonious unity with its natural environment; a life where every mountain, butterfly, and gust of wind is imbued with life and significance, that which seemed unimaginable presents itself  like the forest that was lost among the trees.

I’ve heard it said that only a fool thinks himself wise.  Standing, as we are, at the forefront of Western civilization, and the ongoing technological/economic/information revolution, it seems fitting that so many wise-men, disregarded as savages, have shaken their heads at us.

Peace and love.

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“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” — Ecclesiastes 3:1

It’s the first of March.

The dawn of spring has already begun to break winter’s dark night.  The sky in the east grows lighter; a pale glow giving shape and depth and life to the quiet and dark world.

Beneath the snow, the colours of the day ahead still sleep, quiet and cold, waiting for their moment to rise and shine.

And I miss writing.

My life is full, of course – perhaps even too full.  It’s always full, because I love to feel productive even more than I hate to feel idle.  But I love to write, and I miss it, and life is too short and too dreary to sacrifice creative expression at the  expense of ‘productivity’ (whatever that means).

So,  as the small tree stretches and yawns with the forthcoming of spring and the time to bud, to bloom, and to grow, I see the time as ripe for rebirth, renewal, and growth.

I recently learned that a tree grows from the inside out, effectively replacing its core each year, and pushing the past year(s) away.  I love the idea of growth from the inside out.  Certainly the past influences the path into the future, as old experiences limit the tree’s capacity to grow as it otherwise might.  But the present is not built upon the past.  It is instead built from the seed of life, and creates the reality in which the past comes to be defined. It seems a shame that we are socialized to see ourselves as products of our past, rather than definers of it.

Spring is almost here: a season for new beginnings.  I’m excited to write again.

Peace and love.

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“Don’t worry about a thing, ’cause every little thing is gonna be alright.” — Bob Marley

Have you ever noticed that our culture has something of a perverse pre-occupation with “catching-up” with this or that?

I know I do.  Over the past few months, I have often lamented the reality that this little ranting forum of mine had faded into oblivion.  I often told myself that I would re-engage, so to speak, and quite a few times opened up this “new-post” page which I am this very moment filling with gibberish.

I never made it though, until now I guess, and even now I have a fair way to travel before I click that little “publish” button and spring my gibberish on an unexpecting world.  One of the main reasons I never made it was this crazy idea I had of “getting caught up.”  That is, afterall, what these words you are reading are doing, aren’t they?  Getting caught up?  The thought of “getting-caught-up” can be daunting, don’t you think?

I live what must be the most transient existence of anyone I know, and still I find my life saturated with things to “keep-up-with.”  E-mails, Facebook messages, personal finances, professional development, relationships with friends and family strewn across the globe, educational progress, and on and on and on …

It’s all a bit silly though, isn’t it.  I mean, what am I trying to “catch-up” to?  Who am I trying to “keep-up” with?

The answer to both questions seems to be some imaginary present/future satisfied version of myself, which raises the perfectly reasonable questions of: a) how is it possible for person to catch up with themselves and b) how is it possible for person to ever reach the future?

It seems that as soon as I “catch-up” with one thing, I have fallen behind with something else.  What’s worse, if I do finally manage to “get-ahead” in a single aspect, the process of getting ahead almost inevitably creates an entirely new life-element which I must then worry about “keeping-up” with, on top of everything else.

Is it possible to “catch-up” with everything, and if it were, how long could one remain “caught-up” before somewhere, something, needed attention?  The whole thing seems a lot like a trap to me: a perpetual state of “being behind,” of “need-to-dos” and ultimately of incompletion.

I suppose one could compare it to caring for a home.  Lots of things require constant attention: the lawn needs to be mowed, the floors need to be swept, the dishes need to be done.  Some things require a bit less frequent care: dusting, cleaning the bathroom, emptying the fridge.  Some things a bit less still: cleaning the floors, pruning the trees.  Some things can be ignored, but for those few weekends of every year that are dedicated entirely to keeping all neglected things working and clean.

For the sake of argument, let’s say a person dedicated a month of their life to “catching up” with their home.  How long would they remain “caught-up”?  Would they ever, for a single instant, actually be “caught up”?  And if they did manage to get caught up, and stay caught up, with their home, what would happen to the many other elements of their life?

Of course, as one becomes ‘successful,’ that little old house won’t do anymore, so it’s time to get a nicer and bigger house, which inevitably will have more things to clean keep working.  With the newer house comes the newer car, which also requires a little more attention.  The better job takes up more time too.  Maybe there is a boat, or a cottage, or whatever.  And the growing family is definitely in need of constant care as well.  With this, we enter into an entirely different, but equally futile, form of “keeping-up,” – that is, with the imaginary others, with whose life-progress we are apparently to be compared.  (though it strikes me as I re-read this, that perhaps nobody is ever actually trying to keep up with others, but that the attempt is, in truth, an effort to “keep-up” with how they would like to be seen/thought of by “the Jones’.” – that is, keeping their public image up with what they would like their public image to be.)

So now we must not only keep up with everyone else, who are trying equally hard to keep up with us, but we must also keep up with an imaginary, ideal-future version of ourself.  Doesn’t this seem totally insane to anybody else?

It almost seems as though we have come to collectively define success as one’s capacity to juggle the most balls – that is, to be perpetually unsatisfied with as many things as possible at one time.  And that’s not even taking into account the moment after that, and the moment after that.

If I am trying to “catch-up” to the point in time and space at which I wish I could, in this moment in space and time, be located, would it not be infinitely simpler to just re-define the place I wish I could be as the place that I currently am located?  In other words: to simply choose to be satisfied right now.

Then I am already caught up.  And I don’t need to worry about all the things I need to catch-up with.

Then I can spend my time right now doing whatever I want to do, right now.

Considering I have only a finite handful of hours to live/enjoy on this earth, and they are disappearing rapidly and constantly, doesn’t spending my time doing what I want seem to be a much more practical way of living than striving eternally after some future that is impossible to reach now, and is becoming more impossible to reach the more I pursue it?

Of course, this is all crazy talk.  Our so-called civilized world has sorted itself out in such a way that, in order to be normal and sensible, a person must weigh themselves down with concerns, and run always to keep from falling behind.  To do otherwise would be partly lazy, partly pathetic, partly useless and entirely unproductive.  These are adjectives which our society does not place a high value upon.  Certainly such people are not ideal employees, desirable mates, or good people to loan money to.

Then again, if a human being were to look at two doors, one labelled “Successful and Productive” and the other labelled “Satisfied and Happy,” which door would be the more sensible choice for a human being to make?

Which choice would you make?

“Incomplete” or “Unproductive”

“Imaginary Future” or “Real Present”

?

For me personally, I can say that the process of simplifying my life continues to be rewarding in a very human way.  I can say that my increasing refusal to feel obligated to “keep-up” with many of my former pre-occupations has engendered a profound joy in the activities I do choose to take part in, no matter how mundane.  I can say that, being patient with time itself, and focusing my energy on only those things that fit most harmoniously with my humanity in any given moment, regardless of outside or perceived internal obligations, has revealed to me an entirely new, more genuine, more fulfilling and more powerful, side to myself and my potential.  Best of all, in exploring that potential – not professional potential, but human potential – I feel peaceful, and unhurried, and experience great joy in each small part of the whole, regardless of where it may lead.

Then again, I’m an unemployed and homeless, formerly “successful” 27-year old, living primarily  on the couches, and generosity, of family and friends.

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“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” — Mother Teresa

I found this as you see it, on Christmas morning, 2009, at Mikadi Beach Camp in Kigamboni, Tanzania.

Just over the rise, beyond the trees and hammock, lie 20 feet of white sand, littered with the detritus of the blue Indian waters, stretching  further into eternity.

For hours that day, I sat in the hammock, and stared out at ships and boats and people floating on their way from the past to the future.

“If impermanence is truth, and the universe is big, what meaning can there possibly be in a life?  What is real?”

Be the best grain of sand that you can be? Even the perpetually changing waves on the ocean can be nothing but as they are in the moment they find themselves. Eternally, they crash into the shore.

This one reaches high, looming ominously on approach.  Alas, it crashes early, and is quickly swept around and consumed by its more cautious neighbors.  That one is loud, threatening, but threatening too soon, and the outflow of a crashed wave, now receding, sweeps beneath it, and sucks away its power far from shore.  Most waves crash unnoticed, unremarkable, here and then gone in the non-existent annals of earthstory.

Still, standing in any one place for a time reveals surprises.  A strong wave, appearing out of nowhere, and propelled by a surge around it, shoots high, rapidly consuming my feet to the ankles.  The front line of green and brown detritus high on the beach is shifted slightly.  Some is left behind.  Some is taken back.  Still there is little change, but for the sand now eroding beneath my heels, as the ocean begins the long process of taking me back into it as well.

As hours drift along, the sea rises and falls.  On retreat, one can see the impact of a single day’s waves left on the beach, as everywhere, life has taken root.  Even man, in wave upon wave, scours the beach and it’s borders for life, to feed its life.

Each day, in any given spot, one wave has risen higher than all the rest.  The outer edge of life and waste that rings the line of high tide, in one small stretch of an endless beach, is set by this ambitious wave.  Each day, each week, each month, each year, each … and so on.  What of a human life then, if the sum total of the potential attained is nothing more than the high wave of the week or the month, in a single spot on an eternal beach?

But what is the ocean, without any one of its waves?

Put another way, is any one wave just a wave, or is not a indistinguishable part of each of those around it, and as such, an indistinguishable part of the whole?  Do I stand on millions of grains of sand, or on the beach?

So what really matters in a human life?  Where is the real meaning?

I have some thoughts, but this is getting a little long, and 9:54pm is pancake time.  I’m pretty sure it has to do with living in the present, though.

Peace and love.

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“We are golden.” — Joni Mitchell

Right.  I woke up at 5:00pm this morning.  True story.  It’s 8:30pm now, and I’m excited to still have half the morning ahead of me.  I have a meeting tomorrow at 2:00pm, though, and a little extrapolation suggests I will be fast asleep just then.  The world is so inconvenient.

Listening to an old favorite of mine:

We really are star-dust, eh?  Wait, how can an atom just stay the same for eternity?  That doesn’t seem reasonable, but if they do reproduce, or in some way re-fresh themselves every so often, where does the energy come from, and where does it go?  There is so much, even about ourselves, that is beyond our understanding.

“I feel like I’m a cog in something turning.  Maybe it’s the time of year, or maybe it’s the time of man – I don’t know who I am, but life is for learning.”

Peace and love.

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“Oh you can tell by the way I use my walk I’m a woman’s man, no time for talk”

Today I was standing in line at a Hallmark, waiting to buy 72 little star-shaped stickers.  I was trying to figure out what to do with 18 little red stars, 18 little blue stars, and 18 little silver stars, as I really only wanted the gold ones, when Captain Collar-pop behind the counter started putting on a little show.

From the back (and backs can be deceiving), the customer in front of me appeared to be a very attractive woman; each piece set just-so to make each feature look a little better than nature had intended.  I suppose it was only natural, then, that Captain Collar-pop gesticulate wildly – so goes the age-old attempt by man to convince woman that he is the ideal mate.  In his case, this took the form of the classic ‘no-look-cash-drawer-close,’ a move he executed with an air of faux-uninterested flourish that would have driven an adolescent female peacock into a fit of hysterics.

Alas, foolhardy in his youth, our fair Captain failed to account for one crucial detail.  With so many pieces of his flailing body to keep in check, so many intricate steps of flailation to carry out in precise sequence, he can hardly be blamed for not noticing something so mundane.

You see, held eternally in wait on top of that cash register is a single pencil.  It is an old pencil, surviving through many hours of idle tapping by minimum-wage clerks staring out at an empty store.  So much comfort it has brought, and so many solutions, always there at hand’s reach in a pinch.  What irony that such a stalwart support should betray our charming hero at this most delicate of moments.

You see, engaged as he was in his pre-drawer-close-wind-up, he didn’t realize that a subtle vibration had set the pencil to roll, and rolling it was now, down into the path of the closing drawer.  I wanted to warn him.  I tried, but the words caught in my throat.  The image is burned, now, into my mind.

There was Captain Collar-pop, gazing intently into the distance, an aura of mystery and danger dripping from his every feature.  He didn’t see it coming.  He couldn’t see it coming.  “What’s that in the distance?” his countenance asked.  “Is it a bird maybe?  Such beautiful plumage?”  Thu-dunk.

The unwatched drawer slid silently towards a conclusion that was now all but inevitable.  The pencil, rolling and tumbling, bounced like a roulette ball.  Oh if only it would bounce astray, then, just maybe, our hero might carry the day.  Captain Collar-pop will have his day, I am sure of it.  Such flourish can only come to good in time.  Today, though, the pencil didn’t bounce free.  No, with the trademark stubbornness of a pencil, it buried its half-chewed eraser deep among the accumulated nickles.  Sliding now, with the closing drawer, its dull point wrote a single final line upon the air itself, a farewell note to foolish hope.  Impact, now, as errant pencil prevents the closing of the drawer.  Impact, now, as rocking cash-register bumps ‘point-of-sale-kinck-knack-display-boxes’ filled with assorted humorous magnets, inspirational bookmarks and books made for people with very small hands.  Impact, now, as boxes fall to the floor.

I never saw the face of the woman ahead of me in line.  I saw only his as he tried to play it cool.  Tried to laugh it off.  “What’s that in the distance?,”  his body asked.   I watched his face as he watched her walk away.  Oh the things that could have been.  So many shattered dreams.  So many little red, blue and silver star-stickers with nothing to stick them on.

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