Tuesday, February 26, 2019

They Are Here To Teach Us

Last week, I wrote about some of the myths by which we we live. The greatest of all is the myth that time exists. Physicists and philosophers now tell us that the illusion of time's flow is a prejudice of our unique perspective as human beings. Indeed, time is something we have invented, a myth to help us make sense of the universe. Time even has an evolutionary history. For most of our existence on the planet, especially during our long pre-history as hunter-gatherers, everyone knew that the thing we've come to call time was subjective. Our lives were governed by cycles of light and dark, cold and warmth, rain and drought: measures that varied from moment to moment, from individual to individual, location to location. It really wasn't until the first Agricultural Revolution that time began to move toward the rigid tick-tick-tick that we know today. Clocks were invented that measured time in somewhat more regular manners, but it was during the Enlightenment that scientists like Isaac Newton and others began to theorize that time was a universal measure that was the same everywhere for everyone, and that's when our modern conception of time really took shape.

Human babies are born without this modern conception, this human invention, this myth we tell to explain phenomena that we are, because of our perceptual limitations, so far incapable of truly comprehending. Yet here we are, born with a perfect knowledge of time, and then must be taught the agreed upon myth.

As parents we complain that our schedules are thrown out the window when a newborn comes into our lives, to be replaced by cycles of hunger and satiation, discomfort and contentment. And we begin right there to teach them about time, striving to create a kind of clockwork order from our lives, to get things under control. We find them lost in the study of motes, meditating, and believe that by somehow engaging them we are showing them a better "use" for their time. We are frustrated when our toddlers don't share our urgency about getting ready, about getting places on time, about meeting deadlines as they exist according to the real nature of time rather than the myth we've created around it. They are living in time (whatever that is) the way it truly exists while we, "educated" humans, are living in time the way we have invented it.

Even if we are not capable of fully comprehend this thing we call time, we have all experienced it as the flexible, personal thing it is. No matter what the clock tells me, an hour stuck on the tarmac in a delayed jet is much longer than an hour spent chatting with an old friend. When I am actively engaged in life, time flows faster and when I'm idle the hours drag, yet in hindsight the opposite is true. Time is an infinitely malleable thing it turns out. Sure, I can pull out a clock by way of "proving" that time is a rigid tick-tick-tick, but it doesn't reflect reality, just the myth we tell about time.

I have no illusion that society is ever going to give up on the myth of time, but as adults who share our lives with young children, I think we miss an opportunity when we don't take advantage of their superior perceptions while we can, to live with them in the reality of time, a place where clocks lose their meaning. Sometimes I succeed. Those are the moments just before I'm shocked to realize that it's time for the children to go home. Those are the moments when time doesn't flow, but rather, just is. The true nature of time reveals itself through our children: it's wisdom they are here to teach us if we'll only let them.

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