as crows fly & the subtle slip of time

I was putting together a bioblurb for a course I’ll be teaching in January and felt a strange sense of inauthenticity about what the time lines suggest about my skills.  Apparently, I’ve been doing this for 15 years and that for 35, not to mention the other for 12 and something else for only 3 years.  Of course, the thing I did for three years is what I loved most, what I’ve done for only the last year is what I feel best at, and the thing I have been doing for the last 35 years is what I feel least skilled at.  Time is strange that way and it makes me leary when I hear it used as a marker of development or passion.

Another strange thing about time is how there isn’t enough of it.  Seemingly.  I love reading Adam’s blog Fly Like a Crow simply because it reminds me of those baby-powdered days of having a little one in our lives.  The Kid will kill me if I upload any pictures of her so I can’t share how adorable she was… is… These years have indeed flown like crows.  If you’re hearing Tevye in the background belting out “Sunrise, Sunset” then you know what I mean.  There are no regrets really because I loved every moment I had with The Kid.  I was in graduate school and managed to set my schedule so that I was either home when she got home or could pick her up to go to various after school activities.  (Except for the one time I forgot to pick her up at school thinking it was Tuesday when she took the bus but it was actually Wednesday when she had piano lessons.)

Time crimps down on my desires when I think about how much time I have with Frank.  Call it greedy but 30 years is not enough and the idea of only having 30 more seems unfair.  I get pelted with rotten tomatoes by my lady friends when I whinge about this.  And I duly feel unheard and unsupported in my selfishness.  But you get what I mean, I hope.  Not only am I astounded that 3 decades have passed together, I’m astounded that 30 years have passed.

When I reflect on my career path, something I do more and more of lately, a different twinge about time’s passage arises.  My first encounter with the concept of not enough time to consume came in an interview for my first internship at a local hospital.  The interviewers expressed serious concern that I might not be a “good investment” in training.  I was already in my 30’s and what could I accomplish in the time left, they asked.  Interestingly, I launched into all the things I had aspirations for, some of which I’ve actually done and many of which I had no idea would lead me to this point in my life.  But I won’t deny that I often feel I’ve wasted time.  My thinking goes something like this: if I had kept practising the piano, I would have been playing for 40 years.  If I had stayed in art school, I’d have been painting for 35 years.  If I had kept all the lint I found in my pockets, I’d have enough to knit a hat.

In Kaza’s book, HookedDavid Loy and Linda Goodhew write about Consuming TimeThey explain how we commodify time (get the most product out of a moment), objectify it (time outside mind), and fear the lack of it (fear of impermanence and death).  I’ve struggled with Dogen’s being-time and momentarily “get it.”  Time is not something separate from the ongoing cultivation of self.  It is the cultivation of self which is not possible with transition.  I like Loy & Goodhew’s use of music as an example of being-time where the nature of the musical note and its expression are embodied as time.

Loy & Goodhew also made an interesting comment that the point is not to slow down in trying to cultivate being-time.  Some things, as they point out, are better experienced at a higher pace.  There is good reason some folks like polkas, I suppose.  That made me think about my preferences for being-time at different paces which lead to digging up an article from October about the reasons time flies when you’re growing old.

In Why Does Time Speed Up as We Grow Older, the author explores various theories for our subjective experience of time.  The long and short of it (to save time here!) is that when we were younger, everything was new and so held our attention.  As we get older we develop more automatic processes which carry us to the end point of our chores, events, projects.  We pay less attention to the moment-by-moment experience because we’ve been-there-done-it.  Ironically, all this accomplishes is a consumption of time outside being; in other words, we get caught in waiting for that new experience and either rush past it or miss the new in the ordinary. We feel we only had a moment when more actual time has passed by us, effectively losing time in the process.  t’s also an issue of percentages and proportions.  A year when we were (are?) 20 years old is a larger percentage of our life than when we are (were?) 60. At the same time, at 20 we likely focused on a smaller slice of time (meet you tonight!) than at 60 (five years to retire into poverty?!).  It seems then that our experience of being-age is a matter of where and how we choose to place our attention.

How old are you really?  Try this:  Start a timer.  Close your eyes and sit for what you sense is ONE MINUTE .  When you think the minute is up stop the timer.  How much time has actually passed?

If the actual time is more than 1 minute, you’re might be older than you think – regardless of what the clock says.

If time passing is subjective and if, in fact, we are the embodiment of time itself, it makes sense to cultivate a practice of mindfulness.  Not the la-la-be-in-the-now presence but the truly challenging aspect of being present to what is unfolding as our life.  It means connecting with our experience, good, bad or indifferent, without preference (which takes us out of mind) and with an awareness that this precious living-time is all there is.

Thank you for practising,


PS: I noticed this morning that Norman Fischer’s dharma talks from Deep Time, a retreat he gave at Upaya Zen Center, are now being uploaded on the dharma podcast  page.

if ihad an ipad – the subtle surrender of relationship

I posted this comment on Ox Herding yesterday:

I don’t want happiness.
I want an IPad.
Very simple, really.

If Ihad an Ipad,
I would be able to acquire all the things I want to acquire
and then
I would have power, fame, and fortune.

If Ihad an Ipad.

What would you sacrifice to have that bright, shiny new toy?  The question is not a couched accusation.  I ask because I found myself caught in a moment’s dilemma a few weeks ago.  An email arrived from a group list of mindfulness practitioners that offered a free iPad (yes, in the poem above I’ve inverted the caps in the letters for good reason). All I had to do was go to the Apple site, click on the links and I would get an iPad to beta test some apps.  OK, any opportunity to be pimped out to a technology giant, I’m first in line!  It’s an adorable failing of mine and my family has attempted a few interventions to no success – unless you count that sucking sound of Frank and The Kid falling into the black hole of Kindles, cell phones, notebooks, and nanopods.

Following the instructions carefully, I entered all the relevant information on the website as it dangled luscious pictures over and over again of all the things I could do with my new iPad (which I get to keep after the beta-testing).  My addiction tends to put me in a jhana level I call Fire, Ready, Aim.  Click, yes please include me.  Click, here’s my vital statistics.  Click, yes you can harass my husband about my worst habits.  Click, you can  have my first-born (and no exchange or replacement allowed).  Click, here’s access to my contacts…

It is in moments like this that I am deeply grateful for my years of practice in paranoia.  Contact list?  I don’t think so.  Sacrifice my spouse and first-born, no problem.  Share my Contact List, well… let’s talk about that, shall we?

But there’s no talking to be had with software designed to get more from you than it’s designed to give.  You’ll be proud of me: I let go of my desperate need for an iPad to preserve the sanctity of your email box.

Starting with yesterday’s post and into this week, I’ll be circling the drain of mindless consumption.  My friends in the US are celebrating Turkey Day and Black Friday (is that a celebration?) this week.  And the world is zooming in on that Season-Who-Should-Be-Renamed. ‘Tis the season for a peek at the subtle ways we are lead astray.  One of the chapters in Stephanie Kaza’s terrific book, Hooked: Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume is by Diana Winston titled You are what you download.  Using the 12 links of “dependent (or not) origination,” Winston explores how her addiction was triggered by the Internet:

On the day I realized that I could have anything I wanted over the Internet, I bought ten new books, a subscription to a simple-living magazine, and a pair of black leather boots, and sent myself daily quotes of the Buddha.  The Buddha sent me an email about the law of karma.  He said actions have results.  If I plant a plum pit, I will get a plum tree.  If I practice greed, I will be more greedy.  If I practice generosity, I will be more generous.  Buddhism 101.

It’s easy to get sucked in.  It’s easy in that vortex to have the light that glows from what we value diminish and flicker.  It’s easy to believe then that what we want is so much more valuable than what we have – or are about to give away.  However, that moment in the iPad seduction was more insidious than my usual unrestrained forays into Internet shopping.  For whatever the reason, that split second of realization that I would have to surrender all the names in my address book broke the trance.  I was being asked to offer up relationships of trust for a piece of technology.  Lovely technology, mind you.  Sexy, smooth, vibrant, technology.  And that seductive software made the fatal error of asking me to betray a trust.  Fulfilling Internet-fueled cravings was no longer an individual matter.

Winston goes on to point out that it helps to have more space between the first arising of craving and the grasping (or aversion) that follows.  Although she is quite correct in exploring this aspect of Internet-fueled greed as an individual risk, I realized it is very much a relational risk too.  From the chain emails to i-viral infections, we are asked to expose our connections to others either deliberately or inadvertently.  And, I haven’t even got into the whole exposure process of social networks which are a variant on the body count issue of yesterday’s post.

Winston offers many possible antidotes to being in the thrall of the Internet.  Limiting the time spent, having a one-to-two ratio of time spent on the Internet with time spent with friends and so on.  I like the metaphor that arrived in my mail – the real, drop it off in your box at the end of the laneway mail.

Our electricity company now charges based on the time of day I use my appliances.  High to low peak hours remind me to use the green-zone times to do the wash, run the dishwasher so that I consume less and minimize the impact on my environment.  The potential duplicity of corporations aside, this is a neat sticker to place on my desk, reminding me that there are times when my actions will have a greater relational cost and to use those times wisely.  Looks like Internet offers of satisfying lack go in that red zone.

Thank you for practising,