Monday, November 20, 2017

Little Jots

I have little bits of paper everywhere. Reminders, grocery lists, to-do's, phrases from books or magazines. I like things organized, so I'm not living in a sea of them; they're all sitting in tidy piles or clipped to the fridge or pinned to bulletin boards or tucked into wallets.

But they're everywhere.

They are like odd little snapshots of my life from the time I jotted them down. The bit of paper that says, 'dish soap, butter, furnace filters', sits right next to, 'the world is won by letting things take their own course.' I jotted down 'Leeloo perfect' a week or two ago when I watched that sci fi movie - what was it called? the one with Bruce Willis? The Fifth Element? Anyhow I loved the woman who played Leeloo. Her name meant 'Perfection' in the movie. And I wanted to remember the name - might make a good name for a story or for a drawing or for a hamster or for a granddaughter. So 'Leeloo perfect' is in the pile of notes on my desk, at the top of the pile.

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I really enjoy coming across a slip of paper that's been sitting in an old coat pocket. It's better than finding a dollar. Chances are it's just an old grocery list, but sometimes it says, 'childhood slights are painful because your goodness was questioned.' And it touches me again. '...your goodness was questioned....' Feels good to read it again.

Sometimes when they float to the surface, these little jots have meaning again, even if they are a snapshot of something from last week or last winter. Different meaning, maybe. Deeper meaning sometimes, given that I have lived more life since I jotted them down. Even the grocery list reminds me of who I was that day. But not all of them retain their value. Every now and then I have to sweep through them and toss a bunch out.

But when I do, I often come across another gem that I want to keep. Like the quote from Suzuki Roshi, '... when my talk is over your listening is over. There is no need to remember what I say... you have full understanding within yourself. There is no problem.' I laugh when I see this one, jotted down on a little slip of paper to remind me that I don't need to.

First published February 2008 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

A Watched Pot (Never Boils)


My favourite Star Trek episodes are the ones where time gets weird. Causality loops, time paradoxes, alternate timelines - I love them all. Years ago, when I was involved in a minor fender bender in a taxi, I was amazed at how time slowed during the event. I watched broken glass shatter in slow motion and then wash up over the hood like a wave of water, then wash back out towards the other car again. I was amazed at how much detail I picked up in what I knew was just a second or two of time - each individual bit of glass discernible. After a moment, time became normal again.

I suspect most of us have experienced time's inconstancy. When we were kids, the school holidays were endless, yet now, vacations zip by like shooting stars.

Time bends and changes according to our activities - each with its own rhythm and pace - different for each of us. In meditation we can speed up time or slow it down according to our needs. Some athletes use meditative disciplines that ask for intense focus to stretch time out when they are "in the zone" in competition. Other meditations may go by so quickly we wonder that half an hour has passed.

When under stress, time becomes much slower, just as it did for me in that minor accident. In dreams, time takes on dimensions we can't begin to fathom in waking life. I learned to ride a bicycle in a dream. I packed hours of learning into minutes of the dream and awakened to live the full value of what I'd learned.

There are many theories that try to answer the question of why time is so inconstant. Many of them agree that it's the quality of the experience that determines how long it lasts. Children pack new experiences into each hour of the day, laying down new neural pathways in their brains as they do. They are very awake to the world around them. They live with great intensity. Events have more meaning. As we get older, we tend to have less novelty, less intricacy, less intensity - life has less meaning.

So if we want any experience to last the way our school holidays did when we were little, we might act a bit more like kids and a bit less like adults: Take a deeper interest in what's in front of us. Cram new experiences into our days. Learn new stuff. Engage different areas of our brains. Practice meditations that let us shift out of our normal consciousness. Turn off the tv or put down the book and go for a walk instead.

Time may not get as weird as it does on Star Trek, but perhaps the more we play with time, the more time we may have to play.  

First published September 2009 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.