On Being Sculpted By Time
Dear quarter lives,
If you were a prospective piece of art and could choose your creator, who would you choose? Which cosmic force or element would you elect to be shaped by? Who do you trust to mould you, to sculpt you, to remove all that is excess until you are just exactly as you are meant to be?
For me, time has always been something that evoked quite a bit of anxiety and an equal amount of curiosity. Its slipperiness fascinated me. It moves, but you cannot really see it move except through what it touches and it touches absolutely everything. Both living and non-living. Both people and chairs. You see it wear youth into old age and tear new objects into precious antiques. Time, to me, feels like an artist. But not just any kind of artist. A sculptor. One that erodes things into being. One that carves itself onto our skin, creating stories where there was space, making lines on our surface in much the same way the wind chips away at the earth, sometimes making sharp surfaces we call mountains and at other times making space between those very mountains for water to flow and life to flourish. Perhaps time is indeed a sort of atmospheric being, not dissimilar to air. Perhaps it functions as our breaths do, constantly flowing through our bodies but never remaining in it. Our bodies need time to exist; they cannot be here without it. And just like the number of breaths we experience in a single lifetime is limited, so is the number of seconds. So maybe it is worth considering how our relationship to our breath is similar to our relationship to time, and how could exploring our relationship to our breaths offer us insight into our relationship with time. Perhaps it is through our breaths that we can get to know time more intimately.
Over the past couple of years, my relationship to time has been shifting, not only in terms of the perspective from which I observe it but too in terms of the way I am engaging with it. Time from where I stand right now seems to control everything. There are certainly aspects of time that terrify me, but right now my fascination with time is winning. I am in complete awe of it. Maybe I am a little obsessed but because this feels somewhat new to me — I have decided to attempt surrendering to the control and power of time, and see what that’s like for a change. I am sure time has a lot to show us, perhaps that’s why it keeps knocking on our doors to pay attention to it. Perhaps anxiety arises when we refuse to look at time, when we resist what it is trying to show us, when we insist on keeping our eyes closed claiming it is already too dark. Though that surrender does not mean I am not participating in this relationship, in fact I would argue I am participating more. As I learn to be with time, I become its student. As I cooperate with it, I become its partner. And maybe one day when I master its language, I can become its communicator.
We often look to our skin to see the impacts of time. We often rely on visual changes reflected back to us through mirrors and photographs. And in all this looking around to see the consequences of time, we miss the point entirely, for the most powerful ways in which time sculpts us cannot be seen with the naked eye, it requires a different kind of vision. That of the naked heart. Perhaps the scratchings of time on our skin divert from the scratchings it makes on our hearts. Although painful at times, it is these very scratchings that soften us at the core, and make us kinder and more compassionate beings. With every moment lost to memory, with every current becoming past, we acquire a kind of knowing that can only be learnt through experience, and it is this very experiential learning that grants us the vision and courage to walk together into the future with our fellow human and non-human soul mates. What time teaches is invaluable, what time grants us through its lessons is a way of being in the world that is harmonious with all the rest of the ingredients that make up the world. Time invites us to flow with it instead of fight against it. Time gives us the option of either teaming up with it by accepting its ways or rejecting it by attempting to override its ways. Time gives us the choice to be in harmony with it and thus the world, or to separate from it and all that exists in harmony with it. While the former option offers peace, the latter offers war — war with ourselves, war with the world and war with existence.
Though each one of us experiences time from a very personal point of view, time is in fact not personal in and of itself, even if it feels so. It is a universal experience, one that the entire World is subject to, from every star in the universe to every cell in every organism. This universality of time reminds us that time is not mine, neither is it yours or anyone’s at all. Time cannot be possessed, saved, sold, or traded. In the same way that I can’t give you my breath, I can’t give you any of my life hours to add to yours, even if I wanted to. Time, I believe, like our breaths is something we experience because we have a body. It is part of the experience of being in a body. Without time, we cannot experience depth. Everything would just be flat, everywhere, here and there all at once. Like a painting in a way. You can see it all at the same time. But once we acquire dimensionality, we can only be in one place at one time, experiencing time as flowing, events as series happening one after the other. When we acquire dimensionality and experience time through a body, we get to experience the process by which the painting becomes itself, we get to experience every step of that process broken down in moments just like watching a film, one image at a time for thousands of seconds and thousands of images until it’s finished and the screen goes dark, and you put on another film or just lay there in silence and stillness taking in what you have just experienced.
Time, you see, is that which can be found in the space between stillness and movement, between a painting and a film, between flatness and dimensionality. When time is present, movement becomes possible. It is the movement of still images that creates the “happening now” experience that we feel as the moving of time during a film. I feel perhaps with movement and time, it might be a chicken or egg type conundrum where you cannot say which came first but certainly the presence of one gives way for the other to arrive. Sound, speech, music — they too are experiences only possible through an existence of dimensionality and depth and not possible through flatness. In a film, sound is possible; in a painting, it is not. And why is sound possible only in the presence of time? Because sound is created through vibration and what is vibration — movement. So sound, speech and music are all forms of movement that come along to remind us furthermore what our dimensionality makes possible. So when time moves, we can move, and when it stops, I suppose we die and return to stillness once again.
The next time you meditate and slow down, take note of what is still within you and what is not. You will notice that there is much that is not within our control, much that cannot be stilled but through working with our breaths, we can learn to slow things down. By learning to navigate the rhythms of our breaths, we can witness our internal clock run, our breaths flowing through our bodies like the sand in an hourglass, passing through one at a time, keeping time for us. Observing the breath can help us to better understand the experience of being moved by time. Time began for us with our first breath. The breath is the primary mover of all things, of all beings, of our entire existence. When the breath moves, it moves everything within you. Every cell, heart, limb, voice in this world is moved by the breath. The breath is the rhythm whose movement creates time. Everything breathes. Everything that experiences must breathe in its own way. And when it ceases to breathe, it ceases to move, it dies and returns to stillness.
So if it is our breath that keeps time, then how we breathe, how we move, determines our internal weather, thereby determining our relationship to time, how time feels to our bodies, what time is removing and how it removes it. So ask yourself what is your relationship to your breath? Ask yourself as a gesture to make peace with time. The time whose passing we must all confront, whether as our own bodies change or those of the people we love. Ask yourself so that you may see that time is bound too like all of us to the laws of give and take. That which time takes from us, it gives something in its stead. All the scales even out in the end, so ask yourself what has time given you. Time is so often identified as that which takes, perhaps now the time has come for Time itself to shed its identity as taker and reveal a new side of itself as — giver, redeemer, and initiator of life.
As we age and our eyes age too, the layers between us and time slowly fade away. Over the past couple of years, I have been learning a new language by which to communicate with time and understand it. This language is one that observes the movement of the stars to keep time, commonly known as — astrology. The study of astrology has transformed my relationship with time. Now I see myself not just as a part of time but as an expression of time — a beat in its song. In a way, by looking far I have come to see what is near more clearly. I have come to see that we are all not only made up of time, but are time itself expressing as individual bodies. So you could say that we are all a form of embodied time, time getting to know itself through experiencing itself in form. How wonderful, mysterious and extraordinary it all is.
With love and always for peace,