The Brushing Of An Eagle’s Wing

“Time” is one of the things I like to think about most. It’s also one of the things that I like to most not think about. Funny, right.

In my life, I’ve had a strong relationship with “time & efficiency.” Using time well. Getting things done. Being responsible. Being tenacious. It’s a good upbringing for me. It’s parents and grandparents that had to work hard to get by. I’m glad to have this orientation in me. It remains rewarding to me to tick a few things off of my list.

And, these days, likely growing in me over the last several years, perhaps even much longer at the pace of a kalpa described below, I have an increasingly strong relationship with “time & contemplation.” Using spaciousness well. Getting the inner work done. Being willing to look with rigor to how my internal creates my outer world. This is good upbringing also. Thoughtful family and friends that have themselves sought to see what is beyond the obvious. I’m glad to have this orientation too. Increasingly so, it feels foundational.

It feels important to me to be willing or able to have a plurality of relationships with time. I don’t commit myself solely to one or the other — therein lays a danger. I’ve always valued the capacity to move between the worlds. It just takes courage, a unique kind, to interrupt the efficiency side of relating to time.

Below is a piece that I read this morning from the Buddhist publication, Lion’s Roar.

Enjoy the stretch and perspective, for a moment, or with great untimedness.

In traditional Buddhist (as well as Hindu) cosmology, kalpas are unfathomably long periods of time. Though they come in different sizes, even a “regular” kalpa is beyond huge: 16,000,000 years. A “great kalpa” is almost 1,300,000,000,000 years.

Sometimes these enormous lengths of time are described in colorful metaphors, such as:

  • longer than the time it would take to fill a cube that is 16 miles wide and 16 miles high with mustard seeds, at the rate of one mustard seed every 100 years;
  • longer than it would take, at the same once-a-century frequency, for the brushing of an eagle’s wing against a mountain to wear that mountain away;
  • longer than it would take for a turtle (one who appears, again, once every 100 years) to randomly poke its head through a ring floating on the ocean’s surface.

Kalpas relate to the nature of the universe itself, describing immeasurably long cycles of creation and destruction. Like modern science, ancient Buddhist cosmology described a universe of almost infinite size, variety, and duration.

The kalpa is often evoked as an encouragement to spiritual practice, reminding us how rare it is to be born human and to hear the Buddhist teachings. “The dharma,” as one Zen chant puts it, “is rarely encountered, even in hundreds of thousands of millions of kalpas.”

Time and Time Again

I woke up this morning not wanting to look at my clock. Not wanting to jump into my 6:00 routine. Not wanting to jump into the myriad of thoughts that so quickly accompany the beginning of a busy day. I showered. I sad quietly. Lights off. I paid attention to the daylight arriving rather than my ever-ready iPhone. I drummed a bit. Sat some more. Fed my dog. And then wrote these words.


Time and Time Again

Time and time again
I wish I could be outside of time.
I forget how refreshing it is
to be free of cramming
or obligation
or muting an insecurity
into five minute increments.

It’s impressive to do so, I suppose.
It’s also oppressive.
When did this moving train that is time
become runaway?
Oh yah, I guess I have a little to do with that.

Sometimes, some times,
I give myself permission
to be outside of time.
I know it’s a perceptual trick
but it has tremendous value
and feels really cool.
I don’t look at the clocks.
I don’t look at my phone.

When I do this,
outside of time,
I remember, only then,
how much I needed it,
and wonder, again,
how could I ever have forgotten this.
Like quiet, spring sun
warming and relaxing every cell in my face.

I crave challenging myself
into not just five minutes of this
and not just a morning,
but a day, or a week —
to return to what I know inside of me as
a different clock (the paradigm is pervasive isn’t it)
and rhythm.

To be fair, my tether to being outside of time,
often, is to set an alarm.
I have a commitment at 9:00.
Setting an alarm for 8:45 is important.
Yet it is very different — this one time alarm,
and me not tracking when it will ring —
than checking my watch, phone,
my computer or microwave oven
to reassure me of not misusing time.

I am for being on time.
Good system.

I am not for having the timeless part of me
enslaved and confined.
I am not for this in any of us.
Chronos, yes respect it.
Kairos, equally so.
Practice it.
And periodically insist upon it.

I don’t want my life, our lives, to become
a production line in which
the parts keep coming incessantly
and I fear them overflowing onto the floor
if I turn away for even a moment
to feel the sun.

Time and time again
I yearn to be timeless.
To take off my clothes and adornments,
that dress up the cultural pattern
of speed and efficiency.
I yearn to return to a more naked state of being
the watch put aside
the calendar tucked away
the forethought and planning suspended
to instead, hear the sparrow’s chirp
outside my window
that goes largely unheard because
I’m so committed to time.

Time and time again,
I hunger to remember timeless.
It too, is who I am,
and who we are.

It’s About Time

I think about time a lot. The time that I have meetings during the day. The 10 minutes of time that I have before some of those meetings. The time that I take after those meetings to follow up. The time that I have to get more done than there is seemingly time for. The time that I want to walk my dog, or be in my garden. There always seems to be some part of my brain that is chunking out time.

I’d like to think about time less. I’d like to feel less “driven” by the clocks on my computer, my stove, my microwave oven, my phone. I’d like to feel more spacious. Less pressured. I’d like to feel less rushed — a quality that can often become habit when thinking so much about time. Time seems to be in the middle of all of this.

For much of 2015 I got to be an official mentor with my friend Jessica Riehl, completing her thesis for her graduate program. Her final project was a focus on time that started with recognition of the pattern that many people experience — not having enough time and how to adapt to that. Though efficiency with time interests me, what feels more powerful and intriguing to me is becoming more aware of the relationship with time that any of us have. With awareness comes choice — so the thinking goes. With choice comes different behavior and practice.

Jessica and I created an exercise that included some fill-in-the-blank statements using post-it notes, one for each person for each question.

  1. Time is a _____. Or, Time is _____.
  2. The hardest thing about time is _____.
  3. The easiest thing about time is _____.
  4. The reason I don’t have time to _____ (something you like to do) is because _____.
  5. If I could change one thing about time it would be _____.

Then we had people talk about their responses. It was revealing. It was really interesting. For me, because our respective relationships (thinking, beliefs, practices) with time really impact who we are and what we are as human beings. Individually and collectively. If I feel that I’m always “short on time” I build my life around that. A timeless wandering walk that could be the afternoon becomes 20 minutes to the end of the block and back.

Fast forward from that time with Jessica. Earlier this week I was in a conversation with another good friend and colleague, Tatiana Glad, visiting from Amsterdam. I love Tatiana for her incredibly quick brain and big heart. Over breakfast, I asked Tatiana about her practice with simple things like email and texts. “If someone texts you, by when do you feel you are responding late?” Of course it depends on who is texting and what the topic is. But what I was trying to surface with her, and learn from, was more of the nuancing of relationship with time. For me, texts are more immediate. I feel that I want to respond within the hour. However, with email, unless urgent (again by project or person), I typically will respond within a couple of days. I don’t want to treat the randomness of email as being my priority todo list — that never ends and often can displace all of the available space for my creative project work.

It was a fun conversation with reaching implication about a simple, simple thing. Yes, corny as it sounds, it’s about time that more of us start talking about time and our relationship to it. To remember the ways that this human construct, clock time, has come to shape our very conception of reality, often, without much of our awareness.

It’s about time.