We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about time. Actually, we tend to turn our time into a commodity, thinking about it as a line and then dividing it up into bits that we all understand: minutes, hours, days, week, months, years… This a good way to be productive, but it has an unfortunate side-effect: it creates a future-focused life. When you think of time as a line, you’re always looking to the future. People in traditional societies don’t think of time this way. For them, time is circular and marked by big life-events. We have echoes of this traditional oral culture in our lives – birthdays and feast days link us to all the birthdays and feast days of the past. We re-experience family warmth and the caring love of friends, as we blow out the candles on our cake we are brought back to all the birthdays of the past. We live our lives many times when we live it mark it through special days.
The secret here though is that this can actually be the way we live everyday. As I sit in my recliner chair as a I write this, I look outside and see the snowy rooftops of my neighbour’s houses. They look serene in the fading light of the late afternoon, a calm and soothing pastel grey light that takes the edges off of everything. I am thinking of how the seasons mark our lives in much the same way as our birthdays – looking out over table toward the window, I feel a connection to my past experiences of winter – people I’ve met and known, good times I’ve shared with others.
If we slow down and start looking at the world around us, we start noticing the things and people around us. Life suddenly becomes full of little moments of wonderment, as we watch Nature’s progress through the seasons. We start to see the flowers budding in a habitual way and the quizzical smile that the young woman cashier at the grocery always gives us. We notice that there are two cows who always face one another as we drive by on the way to work, and we think about their thoughts: what is it that they contemplate in each another’s faces? We see that one of our colleagues always keeps her boots immaculately clean and that she walks with a slight limp on rainy days.
By stopping to think of time as a line, and more as a circle of daily rituals, or as a pulse that ebbs and flows through our days in the changing rhythm and cadence of the world around us. We start to feel ourselves fall into sync with our little worlds, and participate in them more fully. We feel integrated and connected. Distraction and anxiety begins to melt away, and we start to find commonalities with people who we may have thought were very different to us because they have different politics or different ambitions. We start to think of them as people rather than as two-dimensional movie characters. Life stops being like watching tv and more real.
By paying attention to the natural world and to the people around us, our lives gain texture and depth. We start to run around less, and feel in tune with the cadence of nature and the lives of those around us. In a word, we start to feel communion with nature and those around us. That’s comforting and makes us feel more human.