Happy New Year to you all! Or as I prefer to say these days (after having learned this phrase from a Swiss friend a couple of years ago): Rutsch guet ϋbere – meaning slide over well. I love the idea of smoothly sliding into a new year without any bumpity bumps to trip us up, because for many of us a new year can be both lacklustre, after the sparkling Christmas lights have been doused until next year, and a time of pressure, as we make personal life resolutions or search for changes we feel the need for in our routines. It is undoubtedly a time of reflection, both within ourselves, and upon worldly matters.
But sometimes we hardly get a chance to catch our breath because as soon as Christmas is over, in marches the sales and holidays advertising, the pushing on and on and the days tick over into early January and before we know it Easter eggs are in the shops. Are we really so predictable that we respond to all this? Well, I suppose we are if we follow time in the traditional, by the clock and calendar, manner. And what about all the marked anniversaries , both personal and historical, those driven by the media? It seems relentless. How does the picture below of so many watches make you feel?
Well, it makes me feel tense, because so many of us live by the clock, because it seems that we have to, because we can’t escape the fact that everyone’s lives are dictated to by time. Because, because… Just think how naked and bereft we can feel when we forget to wear our watches – how out of control it can feel. We don’t want to be late or early for work or appointments. We are also only too aware that our time on this earth is limited, and we have no idea how long we will have or when our own time will end, so in the meantime we want to save time, use it wisely, we want to make it, spend it, find it, we wish we had more of it…and on it goes. The clock keeps ticking. Many people get stressed by time, they try to cram too much into one day, then find themselves with far too much to do and not enough time, and the clock ticks away in their head and heart….
It’s no way to live. And it can be counterproductive for creative people because we have so many ideas for projects, with many other life committments to address, we know we will never be able to address them all in whatever our individual lifetime turns out to be. It can cause us to freeze, and think, what’s it all about, then? And how are we supposed to prioritise a few of these creative ideas to make sure the ‘good’ ones get worked on and come to fruition? Of course we know we should live in the NOW, and that is so right, we really MUST. Being mindful and appreciating and working in harmony with the present moment is the only way to be, and I’ve reflected upon this in an earlier post. But how about we add into the mix a consciously different relationship with time?
Over Christmas I’ve been reading another psychology book, namely, Man’s Search For Himself, by American humanist psychologist Rollo May (1909-1994). I first came across Rollo May when I was reading The Used Life blog, where the blog writer focuses upon some of my favourite topics including the creative life, the feminine, nature, psychology, and philosophy, and they’ve often mentioned May as one of their favourite reads. Since I’d never read any of May’s writing, I ordered the above book. But to get to the point, it was the last chapter that really spoke to me because it was about man’s relationship with time, and how we can choose to see time differently, more constructively, and somehow transcend it, and indeed master being driven by it.
Here are some points I’ve extracted from May’s writing which may be especially useful for us:
1. Many of us can worry about the clock running out on us, where time becomes the enemy, and even in 1953, when the book was first published, May was talking about us all living in an age of anxiety, and that has certainly not changed. With respect to time running out, I once asked a botanical illustration tutor if she thought I had enough time left to make something of nature illustration in my life. I knew I seriously wanted to pursue it, but was worried it was too late to make a mark, so to speak. As the youngest in the small class, I got a few raised eyebrows at this, and looking back it makes me laugh because I had just turned 40. And of course, I just got on with it regardless and ended up teaching it myself in turn. With creative writing, it was life maturity and the degree I did which gave me the confidence to learn the craft and write, and being a 57 year old writer feels just right. Ironically enough, it feels the perfect time.
2. With regard to many of us fearing growing old, May quotes Jung who says that a person is afraid of growing old to the extent that he is not really living now. It follows that the best way to meet the anxiety about growing old is to make sure we are fully alive in each moment. So you mustn’t worry about whether you have time left in your life to do your creative ventures, you should just get on with them.
3. But back to May. May argues that we, as humans, can stand outside our present time and imagine ourselves in the future or back in the past. And we all know we can do this. We can stretch whole moments in our memory if they have significance for us. Whether it be love, or wonder, or good and bad times with particular meaning to us, which we feel have moulded us into who we are now. And equally, we can squash time into mere moments in our memory, when we spent hours doing something very mundane or which lacked any interest, but which seemed to stretch into infinity at the time. So what we are talking about here is ‘psychological time’, which is far more fluid than chronological time, and is relative to the depth of meaning in our experiences. We remember the past for certain events we have held onto for whatever reason, which may have been fleeting but which occupy more ‘time’ for us in the now, just as we forget thousands of past events and masses of time which lacked any meaning to us.
4. Positively, we can also re-enact certain events in our imagination and so learn from the past how better to meet the present situation. We can use the fruits of past efforts and experiences as intellectual and spiritual ‘capital’ for present development and by these means live our lives in the light of inherited wisdom. With these aspects working within us, time seems to bend, warp, stay still, or expand, and that ticking clock is nowhere to be seen or heard.
So memory and time are closely related here. May says, ‘Memory is not just the imprint of the past time upon us; it is the keeper of what is meaningful for our deepest hopes and fears. As such memory is evidence that we have a flexible and creative relation to time, the guiding principle being not the clock, but the qualitative significance of experiences.’
5. We do not live by quantitative measured time alone, but also by qualitative – where quality counts. And so, because we are all too aware of how our real lifetime is finite, we can actually control how we use our time, we can be mindful of it, we can use it constructively to give us the most personal meaning. It’s not how much time you have left that counts, it’s how you choose to use it. And thereby you rise above been dictated to by the clock or being a slave to it. Not easy, I know. But the more alive you are with a conscious direction of your life, the more you live by quality time. Who cares how long it took you to write that book, to paint that painting, to craft that artefact? It just doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you did it!
6. Ideally, we should live in the immediate present, which is what mindfulness is all about, and what helps this is honing one’s self awareness and one’s consciousness. Cultivating these and living in psychological time gives us a more peaceful and rewarding relationship with time and therefore a richer creative life, where we express ourselves not to necessarily fit in with current trends or current rules of our times, but for our own meaning and integrity. This is time well spent! And May says this is how we actually transcend time – by electing to live by meaning we choose.
So some lofty, but I hope, timely, thinking for the new year! Wishing you much peace and joy from your creative life.