Perhaps a more accurate title for our class in Italy would be: Sketching, Watercolor, Wine and Loafing. This photo is taken on the streets of Orvieto, as we sat and listened to these lively musicians, sipping our cappuccino. We were stopping along the way to the duomo, which has (among many other overpowering delights) a black and white zebra pattern to the marble.
The immensity of this cathedral, the sculptures, mosaics, the frescoes, the rose window– the fact that it took almost 300 years to build (beginning in about 1300)– brings us to the subject of this writing: time. Since there is no agreement on what time actually is, there is also no way of pinning down all the different kinds of time. For this post we will consider two kinds: agreed upon time and deep time.
I have just returned home from Italy. The ideas about time began last evening (and many moons ago)– when, on my first night back, I went to our weekly meditation group. My friend, Mark, led us in a contemplation on time. I thought to myself: it is already tomorrow in Italy. This morning I got up at 4, all fired up to write about it. After I had written for about an hour, I went out to the kitchen to look at the mail that I had brought in last night in the dark. On the top of the pile was our new Lapham's Quarterly with a picture of an astronomical compendium on the front, and Time as the one word title.Whata delight it was to discover the entire issue is devoted to this subject, with writings from Aristotle, Lewis Carroll, Joan Didion, and many more. (A brilliantly written and composed magazine: http://www.laphamsquarterly.org). Now it is about 9 hours later and I am still writing...
In our meditation group, first we considered our agreed upon time, the one that got us all to Italy, to our meditation group, the one that allows us to meet and make things happen on time. We are so accustomed to this time, the one developed with the invention of clocks, that we forget that we have constructed it. That it is not the only kind of time. Have you ever listened to a child learning to speak, and noticed how she seamlessly juggles yesterday, today and tomorrow? The past, present and future have not yet been nailed down to points on a line, and are all folded into this present moment.
In our agreed upon time, which I sometimes refer to as linear time, we use the same sorts of verbs that we use with money: make, waste, save, borrow and steal. We need this kind of time to navigate the world of commerce– but we are in danger when we give it sole authority, or think it’s the only one that is real.
At night when we dream we are in a place that has nothing to do with time. A lifetime can occur in a dream and only require a few moments of day–time. This is the brilliance of the stories that have been passed down: as in C S Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Youmay remember when Lucy goes through the Door in the Wardrobe, and finds herself having all kinds of adventures– only to discover that when she returns to this world, no time has passed at all.
We have all had the experience of stepping into another kind of time– the one without agreements or boundaries– where, as in the stories, all things are possible. It is the sort of time we can find ourselves in as writers and makers– when we are no longer keeping track, marking time or controlling outcome. We have forgotten about ourselves and any sense of duty or plans. This time exists outside the parameters of the cultural gospel which states time is money (Benjamin Franklin) and which relegates the worth of objects, the value of our work, as merely the price it is sold for. The verbs that go along with deep time have nothing to do with commodity, or being in charge (make, waste, save, borrow and steal). Verbs that come to mind for deep time are: let go, relax, renew, imagine, offer, dream– find yourself. Come further in. Create.
What would we do if all the things on our list were taken away? Certainly this is an eventuality we all face. If we have not practiced the art of receptivity, of being, we will be at a loss when we face crisis. Deep time is based in openness, in not knowing, and is connected with a paradoxical experience of timelessness, relaxation and leisure. It brings into focus the bigger picture that puts our personal story in perspective. This is the ground from which creative work springs.
David Steindhl-Rast writes beautifully on the subject of leisure, and how it is not the opposite of work, but the opposite of idleness. Leisure is at the root of liveliness, of deep time, of our creative work. He says that we think of leisure as the privilege of those who have time, when it is actually the virtue of those who give each thing they do the time it deserves.
What kind of time do you need more of?
I know I need more time that is not ruled by the authority of a clock– that this deep time renews me, and somehow pollinates and makes more spacious our agreed upon time. (What a pleasure, being far away, in Italy, where at any given time, none of us could agree on what day it was).
How do you find leisure, not as a separate thing, but in your work? When does time seem to linger and pause?
I’d love to hear from you.