Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rethinking Time

This morning is the best one to view the annual Perseid meteor showers. Unfortunately, it is cloudy outside, and nothing can be seen. The air is very thick, as it has been for weeks, with only occasional breaks. It has a metaphorical tone, echoing the lack of clarity and constant sense of heaviness that seems to pervade everything these days.

Yesterday morning, in addition to some other errands, I was at home looking for some readings for my Fall class. I found out that afternoon that my Fall class was canceled due to lack of enrollment. I don't know if the registrar's initial error in advertising the course as 2 nights from 8:15 to 10:45 was the turn-off. In any case, as my friend J.R. said, it seems like the universe is clearing the way for something. I've probably been too focused on finances these days, and need to get back to what's important. Money will always be a problem, unless I decide to get re-married a rich man or hit the lottery. Neither is likely. But usually I have no summer work, and I'm busy as heck during the Fall. This year things happened the other way around, and that's the way I have to look at it.

However, yesterday's excursion into the works of various philosophers, theologians, and thinkers was not wasted. In thinking about ideas of Nirvana and Moksha, I turned to Alan Watts's book, "The Supreme Identity". I realized after reading it that yesterday's blog posting had a fundamental error--the notion of time and progress. Watts talks about the how the finite is within the Infinite, and the two are not incompatible. We tend to act as if we are moving from the finite towards the Infinite, from having ego to not having ego. The fact of the matter is that there is no real time except now, and you already are what you are trying to be now. The past and the future are mental constructs, the mind grappling with and filtering what it experiences. And naturally, this is why the guru would call for that change now, regardless. When else are you going to make it? The world as it is will not suddenly disappear.

The more I observe the apparent passage of time--in my personal life, in the community, in the country, in the world--I start to see how screwed up it really is. I was listening to some Joseph Campbell lectures in preparation for a meetup in New York this weekend, and Campbell talks about theories of human progress a la Spengler and Frobenius. Both men attempt a chronology of human civilization, and both suggest we may be in a "civilized" era that is actually the beginning of the end. Some of their constructs are useful for thinking about how cultural forms gain prominence and then suddenly drop off--but then potentially gain prominence again. (Campbell was specifically referring to the resurgence of interest in Eastern thought---as a thousands of years old system is more relevant today than the archaic social forms we've touted, but are disassociated from). But I'm not sure I buy the idea that we're progressing towards anything. Things behave in a more "karmic" fashion (referring to the consequences of actions)--we keep repeating the same errors over and over again. You could say it's cyclical, which may be more accurate than linear, but in reality it seems to have no pattern at all. Probably because our experience is so complex--for whatever "advances" we make in one area, we "regress" in others.

Campbell speaks about the four functions of myth-- 1. to relate you to the Mystery of existence, 2. to present a total (and up-to-date) image of the Universe, 3. to validate and maintain social order, and 4. to carry one through life crises. He notes that 2 and 3 are now handled by secularism in our society (though the picture of the Universe presented in the East thousands of years ago is more up to date than our Western religious idea), and 4 by psychologists. All that remains is #1, and we're still grappling with that in a very unconscious way, for the most part. I sometimes call it the "atheist on their deathbed" syndrome, but really, one faces the Mystery every time there's a major life change--especially an unpredictable one. The realization that you are not in control and don't have all the answers can be frightening if you've invested too much in rationality. You can explain everything down the the last elementary particle, and you still haven't explained the Mystery of why existence occurs at all.

Time as we experience it flows, and, as it has been pointed out by physicists--it doesn't necessarily flow in one direction. There's always the entropy factor, and if we use that metaphorically, that chaos is equivalent to our experience of the unknown (though the latter is obviously less measurable). We spend a lot of time worrying about what comes next--whether that be with finances, job, career, love life, home--and the reality is that you really don't know and can't predict with any reliability. I don't make serious 5-year plans because they're ridiculous. You're not on schedule to reach a "goal". You just are, and need to trust that you are where you need to be, whether that's perceived as good or bad.


CJL said...
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CJL said...

Hopefully this isn't a rude observation, please don't take it as such..... Looking at many of your Tweets/Facebook posts, I thought many referenced the wish to get through time somehow more quickly. Comments like "just one more day to go" or "Last day of work for the week--and still counting the days til this online course is finished", and "Only Two more on-line chats to go", oh, and "just need to get through this week".

I know it is none of my business, but it does sound like you are rushing to get somewhere - can I ask where??? :|

Reason for asking is that someone pointed out to me a few years back that if I lived to the average age here, that I only have about 39 more chances to see Cherry Blossoms, 39 more Summer holidays, etc, and suddenly I felt a little short of time and then stopped wishing time to pass so I can enjoy more!
May sound like poppycock, but affected me deeply! Put a hold on time if you can, we only have so little of it! :)

Brigid N. Burke said...

Hi, Chris--

(I removed the second post because it was a duplicate...)

Yes, I know what you mean. I've been quite anxious to get through this summer, because it's been a quite painful one--inundated with work non-stop. I have not really stopped until now to reflect on the need to slow down. But the problem is--I could not slow down over the past few weeks if I'd wanted to. And that gets frustrating.

It's easy for me to talk about time on a larger scale. However, I am no bhodisattva, so I am definitely affected by the problems of day-to-day living, working, paying bills, etc. It unfortunately comes down to a dichotomy between going with the flow and the pressure of being a single woman having to manage all of the day-to-day financial and domestic realities on her own.

Add to the mix the fact that I've basically been in a compromise spot all summer (teaching in an area I've vowed to get away from), and you have a person (i.e., me) anxious to get it all over with.

As I said in the post--I think sometimes the universe puts a stop to things, to make room and remind you to slow down...

Silence Dogood said...

CJL...if I'm my mother, I have 5 more yrs on this earth. If my father, I've 37 more--all of them active, sharp and engaged. Time (given us) is like mercury..fluid, changeable..poisonous if not handled correctly?! I've know Brigid since ...Brig? forever? ..she's been in a hurry forever ..and I never expect it to change.