– About time and about our way to deal with time in our own life style –
The most creative non-activity
When we are sitting around doing nothing, “killing time”, we think we are wasting our life – we have the idea that we own something, something valuable we have been given, and when we don’t treat it well we waste it. To waste time is perceived, in our culture, as the opposite of creativity.
There have always been and still are cultures where time is perceived quite differently. There are countries where people who seem to sit and do nothing are considered to be profoundly active: they ‘make time‘, they create time. These people don’t have the concept that one can own and lose time. For them time doesn’t exist as absolute clock-time, it has to be produced. It has to be created by taking your time, by investing your life in experiencing it. And in order to make really good time one cannot do anything else besides. So people we would consider lazy or slothful are seen there with great respect, and one would whisper in their presence and say: “don’t disturb them, they are doing important work, they are making time !”
These cultures – primitive native people in remote, “unimportant” corners of the world – may still know what we have forgotten. Time is not a thing, nothing we ever had and therefore could lose or waste or sell or buy and certainly not accumulate. Time is not something you could fill with activity. Time has to be made by stopping activity, by being aware of the presence of a moment, by giving a moment space.
Without ever fully knowing the moment itself, we perceive time as the relative difference between moments, as the sequential context, as a decreeing order in which they exist. We dwell in the past in order to influence the future and miss the present, the only time that ever really exists. These cultures understand the moment and see the sequential order as illusive and irrelevant; for them time is the “stuff” moments swim in.
It is February – deep in our “winter retreat”. Time seems to have slowed to a gentle trickle, a slow flow of moments, like bubbles that playfully pop into existence and vanish again without a trace.
For many years, we had traveled the globe in search for the ideal place to live. The problem was not to find a paradise. In fact, we found so many that we gradually had to revise our whole concept of paradise. If there really is something like a paradise it’s certainly not one place.
Our restless traveling life gradually evolved to a migrating life. Of course, originally, the idea was to escape the uncomfortable natural climate changes on this planet. But over the years we came to see it as an alternation between two different life styles, a strategy to counteract our innate tendency to fall into ruts and get stuck in habits.
In summer, in the Pacific Northwest of the US, we live a ‘civilized‘, socially connected, “normal” life, more or less participating with the actual condition of society: house, stuff, phone, friends, obligations, bills, etc, etc. In fall, we regularly disconnect. We deliberately (and somewhat painfully each year) sever all the routines and go away – south into the desert where we have no address, no phone, no schedules, no possessions and live extremely simple with minimal stuff in nature and often do nothing.
Yesterday, the narrow sickle of a new moon graced the evening sky and disappeared before it got even completely dark. The nights are black and transparent, empty and dimensionless, an unchanging backdrop for our restless crazy lives, and a merciful void incessantly receiving and absorbing my thoughts that float up like swarms of butterflies.
The last storm has passed, the air is calm again, the sea, sleepy during the day, is still like glass at night. In fact, the water surface is so still at night that the watchful mind finds itself slightly alarmed, worried if things are really ok. Fish are jumping far out. Clear and vibrant stillness. The sea is in meditation, nothing but receiving gravity and spreading out in total relaxation.
There is the knowledge how the sea can rage and roar. All the energy, all this life is dormant now, vibrating with unrealized potential. Is it my memory conjuring up a feeling of this violent potential, or can you really sense potentiality? Kneeling on the sand and dipping the tip of my nose into the water I can’t help to sense a mysterious infinitesimally weak high pitched vibration of the water surface, but I don’t really think about it.
Not even the tiniest waves and yet occasionally minute random movement, invisible but audible when you keep your ear inches over the line where the water meets the land. A faint hissing sound: “shhh … be quiet, don’t disturb! The sea is busy making time !”
We see hundreds of manta-rays jumping out of the water, as if jumping for joy, flying like birds. Low over the water long rows of pelicans slowly fly by. When I see their gentle, collective, harmonious motion I always want to join them. There is no leader and there are no followers. Effortlessly the fluttering row moves through space, often gradually, randomly changing direction, mysteriously aimless and yet with purpose that is completely trusted by every individual.
The first whales of the season greet us one day – our fellow migrants – they blow their primeval hello into the air, it makes me tremble slightly each time, and I don’t know why.
I kill and eat fish – lots of it. I reflect again over the instinctive thrill and puzzling enjoyment of catching them.
I feel my right wrist in the evening – my new companion arthritis, a growing pain, I saw it coming for years – the silent message of progressing age, the subtle reminder of “dukkha”, the intrinsic unsatisfactoriness of how we tend to perceive our existence. It’s not the conditions that cause suffering; it’s how we respond to them. We can choose.
Occasionally, we listen to the news on my satellite radio. Time is racing out there, things changing at lightning speed, problems everywhere. But do we really need to follow this pace? We cannot run away, but we can practice to make our own time.
Sometimes, when we go into the canyons with friends, I take one of my favorite books and read to them. No one can escape the magical spell of this environment, and open the heart even to somewhat difficult philosophical issues.
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To make time is one thing, to shape time is another: The real mystery seems to lie in the propagation of time, in the movement of time. When you look deeply into the significance of speed, there are fascinating differences. Here are a few concerning the way we perceive reality, how experiencing things over a shorter or longer period of time has a different effect:
The short/fast view versus the long/slow view:
Fast learns, Slow remembers.
Fast proposes, Slow disposes.
Fast is discontinuous, Slow is continuous.
Fast, by accrued innovation and occasional revolution, instructs Slow.
Slow, by constraint and constancy, controls Fast.
What happens fast is illusion, what happens slowly is reality.
Fast gets all the attention, Slow has all the power.
Eternity is not in the future; eternity is now.
This is for all the believers:
If you believe, you know you believe, and if you know you believe, you can’t believe. (Sarte)
And this is for all the seekers of meaning:
Somebody asked Krishnamurti one time, “What would you say is the meaning of life?” He said “MEANING ! ? ! – how do you think our puny little thoughts can cast the nature of life into some kind of words that can truly express what IS? Life IS – it doesn’t mean anything! – What does air or moonlight mean !?
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Klaus Feb. 12. 2010