Thinking About Time

The Passage of Time

The Passage of Time (Photo credit: ToniVC)

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was taking part in the Animist Blog Carnival organised by HeatherAwen of Adventures in Animism. The Carnival starts today with the subject of Time. My essay on this topic is here and you can find essays by other Animists on this topic by visiting the Adventures in Animism blog.

What is time? Does it really exist? Many modern physicists and philosophers suggest that time is nothing but an illusion, a tool, a construct of the brain that helps to create our “Self” and to give us a story. There are many questions about time that still haven’t been answered – has it always been or did it have a beginning? Will it have an end? Why does gravity cause time to travel faster or slower in different places e.g. time goes slower on the moon than on earth? There is even a suggestion on the fringes of philosophy and quantum physics that the basic building blocks of the universe might not be anything concrete like energy-matter, but may actually be “events.” So….time is not something simple.

However, despite its complexity, time is the master of our lives – pulling and pushing and shoving and directing us. Time rules over us with an iron fist. None of us escapes the ravages that time inflicts on us and we all face an inevitable end because of time. Yet time gives our lives meaning. It allows us to construct a story to orient ourselves within the universe. Time is a power that must be respected and revered, it could rightly be called a deity and in many past cultures it was seen as such e.g. Cronus was the Greek deity of time.

Time raises questions about fate and how much of our lives are really under our own control – is the future fixed or can we change it? Is everything predetermined by the basic laws of cause and effect or are we living in a universe of infinite impossibilities? Is there such a thing as a randomness? These are big questions that have not been, and perhaps will never be, answered. In the meantime, how should we view these things – should we live believing in fate or free will? Should we accept what happens to us or resist and fight it? Should we make goals for the future or just let things happen and go with the flow?

How can we respect time? Perhaps it is in our celebrations of the changing seasons and natural events that we can most easily respect time – the eight festivals of the year and the changing phases of the moon. These things teach us to view time not as a linear progression but as cyclical, as the ancients once saw it…..or perhaps to combine the two and see it as a Spiral. When we view time as cyclical, we are more in tune with the way nature works. We understand that things happen again and again. While a linear view of time promotes an emphasis on progression, improvement and gaining more, the cyclical view of time makes us value what we already have. When we realise that things change and pass but come back again, that history and events repeat, we live not focused on the future but on the present moment. We see time as almost infinite and so we can relax and not stress about “losing” it. We can live slowly and more in tune with ourselves and the natural environment. If time is linear then what is best and therefore sacred must be something in the future and this makes us “heaven oriented”, but if time is cyclical then the now is just as important, the now is sacred and some heavenly realm isn’t better – the earth is and so we should look after it. For an example of this – witness the silliness over the Mayan prophecies – the Mayans saw time as cyclical and Dec 21s t 2012 was simply the end of one cycle and beginning of another, yet our western civilisation views time as linear and so we interpreted it to mean the end of the world…something the Mayans would be unable to comprehend. It’s not an accident that those cultures and religions closest to nature also view time in a cyclical way.

We can celebrate the cyclical nature of time through the eight festivals of the year and the changing phases of the moon, but also through rites of passage. We celebrate our birth through baby naming ceremonies. We celebrate adolescence through coming of age ceremonies. We celebrate marriage through hand-fasting ceremonies. We celebrate our lives after death through green burials and memorial ceremonies. And that raises another interesting aspect about cyclical time – when we die we do not disappear – we simply “remanifest” through the reincarnation of our atoms. Every atom in our body becomes something else, perhaps some grass or flower or tree or micro-organism. Every atom in our body right now, has been here since the beginning of the universe and it will be here at the end, it has simply been continually recycled and re-manifested into a million new forms throughout history. Nature is cyclical and time is cyclical and we should respect it, accept it and celebrate it.

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2 thoughts on “Thinking About Time

  1. “If time is linear then what is best and therefore sacred must be something in the future and this makes us “heaven oriented”, but if time is cyclical then the now is just as important, the now is sacred and some heavenly realm isn’t better…”
    That does seem to be the thinking, doesn’t it? Yet, there is nothing about linear time that would place an inherent value on any particular point that falls on the line. What is it about humans that wants to lionize the end goal as opposed to cherishing the moment or honouring the past?

  2. Time is illusion. Time is the measure of change. To break out of the illusion of time is to gain a certain element of liberty, but also to see the universe in a new way.

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