The next five pages are extracts from the book. First: from the Introduction
Before We Start
Sense of Timing
In this book we’re talking about subjectively-experienced time, with little to do with clocks and calendars. It is an elastic, ticktock-free stream of feeling-tones, head-spaces, moods, angles on life, insights, phases and chapters, experienced both individually and collectively.
It concerns not just a personal human experience but also nature, the weather, the vibe, people’s car-driving patterns, birdcalls, the growth of plants, the behaviour of worms, the tendency of traffic lights to turn red or green when you approach them, the way fires burn and babies sleep, and the periodic habit of the internet to go faster or slower for reasons that even web-techies don’t understand. These are all symptoms and indicators of ‘the nature of the times’.
It also concerns waves of spam, the arising and spread of infectious diseases, the fluctuations of interest rates, the outbreak and resolution of conflicts, news themes in the public domain, spiders’ activities, the taste of food, aircraft bookings, patterns of rainfall, quirks of government policy and a host of ‘chance occurrences’. It concerns everything, and the way that everything multi-facetedly comprises a unity, which sometimes we see or sense, and sometimes we don’t.
Ancient and first-nation peoples might say "the Earth is crying", "the weather is angry" or "the flowers are smiling", and this isn’t just superstitious twaddle – it says something about a deeper and wider sensitivity and perception of reality than we currently exercise.
When we talk about ‘time’ we usually refer to clocks and calendars: "I’ll meet you at the station at 2.30 on Wednesday 26th April". This is a socially-agreed mode of measuring duration for the coordination of our activities in a complex, urbanised, hurried world.
It is based on the diurnal cycle of the day and the annual cycle of the year – though the Western calendar is unnatural and abstract, wobbling, creeping and needing periodic adjustments. Our calendar has uneven months and it isn’t even anchored in the natural turning points of the year such as the solstices and equinoxes. It looks on time as a rather abstract statistic.
The kind of time we are looking at here is qualitative, as in Bob Dylan’s song… the times, they are a-changing. With this usage of the word ‘time’ we allude to the essential temperamental character of the times we live in – a subjective assessment but nonetheless real.
This kind of time stretches and compresses, rises and falls, with all sorts of flavours, atmospheres, connotations and subtleties to it. Annoyingly, it seems to go faster when you’re happy, dragging out when you’re unhappy.
It’s very useful to tune in to this kind of time because it makes our lives easier, rather like watching where you’re walking so that you place your feet in the right places.
With this sense of time we can understand the immediate moment in terms of context and wider scenarios, giving us a sense of direction and purpose amidst life’s otherwise confusing whirlpools and eddies. We become aware of life as a process with meaning and purpose to it.
This matters a lot during ‘bad’ times, because when things are hard it can feel as if it is going to go on like that forever and our difficulties will burden us indefinitely. It matters during ‘good’ times too because it helps us remember that (apparently) good times, like (apparently) bad times, don’t actually go on for ever.
This scraping and friction of our anticipations, extrapolations and judgements up against the transitoriness of ever-changing reality is the stuff of life.
I met a young German in Egypt, in the midst of the Sinai Desert, who taught me a useful aphorism. Everything is okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end. Yes indeed.
We’re perpetually travelling a road with beginnings, good times, bad times, crisis points, still points, times of relief and times of tumult, always trying to ‘get there’, to wrap things up once and for all. We never do finally wrap things up – even death is just a milestone on a path leading somewhere further.
It’s the journey that matters, not the perceived destination, and the destination, once you get there, simply reveals another one further along the road. Life is a pilgrimage through time.
Sooner or later we realise that we are here to learn. If we dedicate ourselves to learning from life, everything becomes a success, whatever life throws at us. Wealth or poverty, success or failure – it’s a learning experience and you’ve gained something from it.
Don’t worry. I have difficulty remembering this truth too! Forgetting why we truly are here is perhaps one of the great unidentified big issues of today – we all do it. It’s an institution.
When things are all ‘wrong’, learning from life makes them good, investing them with meaning and purpose. Today, the notion of redemption is too often forgotten: yes, we’re here to learn from life and get things better next time around.
There are two key elements to grapple with here: what’s happening, and how we choose to experience and deal with it. Customarily we focus on the former, forgetting that our true realm of power lies with the latter.
We can’t always affect what happens, but we have a lot of choice about how to experience and deal with things, and herein lies our free will. There are some things we can change and some we can’t, and ‘Lord, give me the wisdom to know the difference’.