Making Peace with Time

September 22nd, 2011

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.

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  1. […] energy, and an ending becomes an incredible new beginning. Next, I will address the issue of making peace with time as a new perspective on […]

  2. […] in between an end and a new beginning, the danger of making assumptions about change and getting beneath time to find the ability to adapt and thrive in change. Stay tuned- as Winston Churchill said, […]

  3. Melissa says:

    Love this post and the insights you present here. I stopped wearing a wristwatch when I started freelancing. I’m now back to working full time, but I realize that I am much more peaceful when I spend whatever time I need to finish whatever it is I need to do.  And I love the concept of “everywhen.” Will post it on my desk to remind myself. Again, thank you

  4. Hi Ian – As aware as I pretend to be, I still struggle with time (and, often related to time, with expectations) Great food for thought. And what a funny little bit that conversation with God!

  5. Wonderful, wonderful post. I have not worn a watch since I moved to the countryside so many years ago and I refuse to own a cell phone. However, as much as I try to not be ruled by time , deadlines or other “noise” , having three children and a school schedule makes it rather difficult at times. On saying that, I do feel incredibly fortunate to work from home and I CHOOSE to switch off and not be ruled by time. It gives me that freedom to stop and listen to nature, allowing myself to be nature, to appreciate the small detail, to really listen to the person I am having a conversation with. Being in the present, being in the moment. We CAN all do this if we really WANT to!!! Obviously if you are in an office with deadlines etc you are tied to the clock, (I do so wish employers would appreciate the “time thing” ), but the minute you leave the office, that’s your space to own, it’s your choice to either let time rule you or allow life to just flow as it should, gifting you freedom to appreciate all it’s mystery…………….and discovering  what’s  REALLY important in life.

  6. shereen says:

    I read your article Ian, I was basically crying,  by mistake I think I just hurt someone who is so dear to me,,, I feel stuppid now.

  7. shereen says:

    I didn’t read this article before,I now keep coming back to it, with tears blocking my eyes that I can’t see , I wish I am mistaken, I wish this is never being or going to be, I wish time will go back and stop never move at all, I wish I told him how much I love him I wish I can share his pain, I wish, I wish and I wish

  8. ian says:

    hi Shereen- you still have time to make it right. Do what you need to do without self blame or regret.

  9. T. Davidson says:

    What a thought provoking post, as all of them are. I just started reading your blogs a month ago because I follow you on twitter. The messages you share are insightful. After returning from a month & 1/2 in Tanzania, I have learned so much about “time” and our culture’s typical obsession with it as opposed to the Tanzanians. The trip was an awakening for me in many ways, & it definitely opened my eyes to your great term “Everywhen”. Thank you for sharing these thoughts with us…Namaste.

  10. Carol Shimp says:

    I would like to share your conversation with God, I’ll give you credit. I always worry when I have to be somewhere on time.

  11. ian says:

    Glad to hear from you and would love to read more about your time in Tanzania- do you blog?

  12. When it comes to beginnings and endings, leaving a place or person that we are not ‘ready’ for, but we know we must. I have found that reestablishing trust with my soul is important. If you were supposed to be with that person or in that place. We would. But, your beautiful soul is taking the very best care of you that it can, and allowing you to grow and expand, find you a new beginning that is far more amazing than you previously imagined.
    There is a book called ‘Wisdom of the Elders’ that describes well the tribal wisdom from those who ‘listen’. They talk about the Australian aborigines and the red kangaroo in part of the book. I think it is one of the better depictions of their way of knowing that I have read.
    Have a beautiful day!
    Thank You!

  13. Stewart says:

    Magic stuff. Time is something I have been fascinated with for years. Its true, we have built up a complex structure around our lives, all based in time and appointments, time keeping schedules. I have lived and trekked with hunters in Canada. They do not operate in the same way. Their undertakings are connected with season, weather and location. Not to mention the need for food, fuel, water and shelter. It is much easer to live their way, but connecting with that and brining it here is very difficult. I found coming back and live this way, strange at first.

  14. […] live fully. Part three will address the issue of assumptions and perspective. Part 4 will look at making peace with time as a new perspective on […]

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