One of the reasons we struggle with endings is because we engage in mortal combat with time. We become overly attached to a linear view of time, imagining that everything follows our pre conceived timetable from beginning to end. We end up chasing time, like the Pink Floyd song, “You run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking, and racing around to come up behind you again.” This is part four in a series on endings. The first part looked at impermanence. The second looked at ending well, especially in the case of divorce or relocation. The third looked at assumptions. This fourth part will look at making peace with time.
From one perspective time is linear. One thing happens and then another thing happens. Clocks keep ticking, seasons change and sand keeps passing through the hour glass. However in many indigenous cultures and traditions of the earth like the Celtic tradition, there is a sense that beneath linear time, there is eternal depth.
It’s like the story about the guy who has a conversation with God about time-
Guy: God, how long is a million years to you?
God: A minute.
Guy: How much is a million dollars to you?
God: A penny.
Guy: Can I have a penny?
God: In a minute.
In ancient Celtic culture, they had a different rhythm. They began their days, and their major festivals, at dusk rather than dawn. Interestingly the Jewish Sabbath begins at dusk, which was likely also because of earth based roots. The nature based view of eternal time was translated in the Christian tradition as an afterlife- but the notion of eternal life is not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the space beneath or beyond time, where there is no future or past, just an eternal present. This is also known as “everywhen”. It requires living with imagination, but not fantasy style imagination. It’s an imagination that sees beyond the illusion of control that we create with our tightly managed lives and schedules. It sees the connection between places and experiences, the unity that glues moments together.
Anything that surprises your expectations about time can be healthy in preparing you for endings. The comedian Sean Morey said that the whole life cycle is backwards, and in fact it would be better if you started off dying. Just get it out of the way right from the beginning. Then you could move straight into an old age home where every day you would feel healthier and stronger. Eventually you would get so healthy that they would kick you out of the retirement home, and you would get a job. On the first day of your job you would be given a gold watch, work for 40 years and then be young enough to enjoy retirement. You would party hard and have a great time in high school. Then you would become a child, and have no responsibilities at all; just play and enjoy your imaginary friends. Finally you would spend the last nine months of your life in an ever-expanding, climate controlled, all-you-can-eat spa.
I didn’t know what a season was until I moved to Michigan. In Sydney, Australia, you have two seasons; summer and pre-summer. I quickly grew to appreciate the four distinct northern seasons. It creates a completely different rhythm in your life; nesting, playing and hunkering down. Even the four seasons are arbitrary compared to many earth based cultures. In Australia, Aborigines have a completely different sense of time and seasons. Rather than living “by the clock” in hours and minutes, they live by their senses and seasons, following nature’s lead. Australian Aborigines are thought to be the oldest living culture in the world- between 50,000 and 65,000 years old. One of the reasons they have survived so long is their ability to adapt and change. I have always been struck by their connection to place and yet they were constantly on the move. They moved camp according to the seasons, but not seasons like we think of them. They had multiple seasons, far more attuned to nature.
I’m not suggesting that we recreate the seasons or turn off the clocks. 24 hour days and four seaons will work fine. I’m suggesting that we recreate our expectations of time. I’m suggesting we have a Tom Hanks/ Castaway style awakening to what’s really important and what guides change.
While on a deserted island for four years, his only possession is a pocket watch and a picture of the woman he loves. It’s the picture, and not the clock, that sustains him; not time, but love. Before his castaway experience, he was totally controlled by time; always meeting deadlines as a FedEx worker. He even preached the importance of time, “It’s a sin to waste time.” Beepers, phones, watches, deadlines, urgency. The mantra of our age is “If I just had more time….”
What if you had all the time in the world? According to the Celtic view, you DO have all the time in the world…in each moment.
Castaway is not about what happens TO the main character. It’s about what happens IN him through his experience. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.”
When life is lived from the inside out, you always have enough time. You slow down in order to get more done. You work smarter and with less anxious energy. Endings become relative; just more seasons of life. Things may end outside of you, but you keep them alive within where time cant decay them. We use the expression Island Time to describe people who refuse to be ruled by frantic schedules. I’ve experienced both the joy and frustration of island time. Maybe we need to give some attention to Inner Time, where nothing ever begins and nothing ends. It just continually becomes.
Inner time knows that just as the world is round, time is circular, and every ending is also a beginning.