About Time – Part 1

How did it get late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time had flown. How did it get so late so soon?
– Dr. Seuss

Time changes everything except something within us which is always surprised by change.
-Thomas Hardy 

Time is a current that runs deep in the Third Act. Though some of us have been sensitive to it in our earlier years as well, there is no denying its influence on our thoughts and feelings as we grow older. We think: “How is it possible that so many years have passed since we left high school or college to start our adult lives?” And the emotional accompaniment is like the thud of a big drum, the crashing of cymbals – our hearts pound for a few seconds, we let go our suspended breath, and find our balance again – which is to say, an acceptance of life moving forward, however it will.

In literature, the flow of water is an oft-used and profound metaphor for the passing of time, a symbol of never-ending life but also of its constant changeability and ephemerality, as in the following excerpt from Aidan Chambers’ This is All: Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn.

“Do I change like a river, widening and deepening, eddying back on myself sometimes, bursting my banks sometimes when there’s too much water, too much life in me, and sometimes dried up from lack of rain? Will the I that is me grow and widen and deepen? Or will I stagnate and become an arid riverbed? Will I allow people to dam me up and confine me to a wall so that I flow only where they want? Will I allow them to turn me into a canal to use for their own purposes? Or will I make sure I flow freely, coursing my way through the land and ploughing a valley of my own?”

Widening the lens, Hermann Hesse’s old ferryman in Siddhartha reminds the now not-so-young seeker of Prana of the illusion of time and the ubiquity of the present, for which all things exist — a lesson which the aging Siddhartha has after years of meditating on the nature of the river begun only now to understand:

“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time? That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”

The present is all we have in the Third Act, and must find ways to use the moments it offers. The present need not – in fact, to many, must not – require certainty. It is enough to know that one is in the flow of life; not being able to see around the next bend is less important than discovering what might happen when we get there. It is this relaxation about time that modulates the frantic drive to suck every moment dry, and, rather, simply live it, whatever it is and however it comes and goes. Consider Milne’s thought in The House at Pooh Corner.

By the time it came to the edge of the Forest the stream had grown up, so that it was almost a river, and, being grown-up, it did not run and jump and sparkle along as it used to do when it was younger, but moved more slowly. For it knew now where it was going, and it said to itself, “There is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” But all the little streams higher up in the Forest went this way and that, quickly, eagerly, having so much to find out before it was too late.”

In fact, uncertainty – if one can allow it — may be the perfect condition for letting go of our ‘secure base’, and experiencing what comes. The Turkish playwright Mehmet Murat ildan asks:

“Do you know where you are going? Do you know what you are going to do? Do you know what you are going to say? Sometimes you better know nothing and flow freely just like a river, not knowing where to go, not knowing what to do, not knowing what to say!”

Finally (for now), music that on the one hand is created within the strictures of time, on the other unchains itself from time’s strictures, and sings of special memories in our lives – and in an instant we are transported from the present to seminal memories of our earlier lives, often accompanied by powerful emotion. Check out this animated musical piece that captures a lifetime of memory. Maybe a little sappy, yet still it is full of genuine sentiment.