I woke at some point in the night Friday night and decided to do turn on the light and write down a dream I’d been having. This is something I never do at home, since I’d wake Don up, and maybe also because if I wake up too thoroughly I have a hard time going back to sleep, and part of that is worrying about how much time is passing that I’m not sleeping. Not having a clock to inform me of how much time I’ve been awake, and having no schedule at all for the coming day, made that seem less of a problem. And I got sleepy pretty soon after starting to write! I did try to look for the Aurora Borealis, which one of my last readings of the news had alerted me to, but the moon was too bright.
Saturday morning I woke to sunshine. I often silently recite a “gatha” (breath poem) I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh:
Waking up this morning I smile
knowing there are 24 brand new hours before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment,
and look at beings with eyes of compassion.
I didn’t remember all the words exactly, and also realized it needed modification if I wasn’t going to think about counting time! I wrote in my journal: “Waking up in the morning, I smile, knowing I have a whole new day ahead. I vow to inhabit this flow of time with open, loving awareness.” Thinking of being fully in the present flow of time, rather than being in each moment, is an image I’ve been working with lately. Though the word “moment” comes from the word “momentum,” and so could imply motion, in fact we seem to think of the present moment as a discrete instant, like a snapshot. And such a discrete instant doesn’t exactly exist.
It did feel strange not to check the time when I got up. I was glad I’d eased into things a bit at home. I did look out the window and try to gauge the time from the angle of the sun. I also realized as I wrote in my journal that I am accustomed to counting the number of pages I write. I also noticed that I count repetitions of my Pilates exercises. So many ways that counting, tracking, is built into my practices and habits! I wrote:
What if I don’t divide my time into smaller segments? Practice being in time, as a continuous flow. Not 3 pages/ 20-30 minutes of writing, then Pilates, then 20 min of sitting meditation… but this flow of ink, this paper…
I read some of The Sabbath World, writing this quote down, among others: “When Mark’s Jesus bursts onto the stage like someone breaking through the back wall of a set, time itself changes. It speeds up.” (p. 94). This had to do with Jesus healing people on the Sabbath, rather than waiting til Sunday, I think.
As my first day without a clock proceeded, with some outdoor walking meditation (warm enough to be barefoot!!), eating, napping, and bird-watching, I noticed myself trying to do sitting meditation for at least 20 minutes, so that I wouldn’t be lying when I filled in the InsightTimer app after the retreat! I also noticed wanting to have something to show for my time at the retreat. Accomplishments. A sense that someone will be judging me later. Don, the people he and I had told about the retreat. Me myself. I’ve used the label “time anxiety” for this kind of thing, and I wrote the phrase in my journal, followed by the words “’Hell is other people.’ Deeply internalized desire to please & impress others.”
In what I judged to be the late afternoon, maybe four-ish (yes, my mind was trying to guess), I was outside doing jo practice when the church bell (the one the host had said she thought rang at noon) started to chime. Once, twice, three times, four. Dang! Yet, it didn’t feel bad. It confirmed what I felt and saw from the sun, and it was through no fault of my own that I’d encountered clock time. I wrote “it feels like maybe the internal pressure to accomplish things, to account for how I’m ‘spending’ my time, is the greater issue, that checking the clock is merely an assistant to….” An assistant to the deeper way that living under capitalism and internalizing its competitive culture has colonized my life! “Though,” I added, “there may be a vicious cycle that is fed by checking the clock, and that is eased, maybe a little, by having no clocks. Today is also Shabbat – which has made it a little easier not to try too hard to accomplish anything. It may be harder tomorrow.” I then wrote a litany of the things I’d been hoping to accomplish on the retreat, followed by the reflection, “That’s probably more than is possible in the time I have…. And, trying to accomplish anything may be counterproductive to accomplishing (!) a different relationship with time!! Okay. Just so I’m clear about my confusion! Conflicting goals.”
Amazingly, I next returned to reading The Sabbath World, and noted Judith Shulevitz’s report that “the Puritan Sabbath…was a tool of anxiety management. It allowed the Puritan to master his fear of the passage of time, and of death.” (p. 150). I also noted “The Sabbath is what gives you time to read” (p. 156, though she’s talking about reading the Bible), and quotes about one of Rousseau’s retreats, which gave him the “relief of not having to live up to expectations…a novel yet very old sense of time, time experienced as he imagined babies experience it, as plenitude and sensation and living in the moment… Grown-up time… is absent from itself…we never occupy it. We dwell in the past and the future but never in the present… he rediscovered a way of being in time.” Shulevitz called this “the Romantic Sabbath, an unpressured, serendipitous, nostalgic experience of time” (p. 176). So, I felt in very good company, despite my solitude!!
I finished the book (one of my goals!), and noticed that it felt like a big accomplishment, and that it was, in part, a book about our modern inability to slow down enough to read a whole book! Then, I accidentally encountered the time again (coincidentally, again at 8:20!) when I messaged my AirBnB host about a strange beeping that had been disturbing me periodically, not realizing that the AirBnB message site included a time stamp. D’oh! I did feel bad about the “transgression” that time, because it was one I could’ve avoided.
Sunday I woke to clouds. Okay, how would I do without even the information provided by the position of the sun in the sky? I continued to notice the habit of checking for a clock, and wrote, “Checking outside myself for information. Calibration. Help with planning, managing, corralling this life into acceptable boundaries, channeling it towards goals… rather than allowing it to flow.” I reflected on how I use my calendar that way too, and wondered whether I might next try an “un-calendar” experiment!?!