Rocks, Butterflies, Glaciers, Sea Change: Taming the Time Beast

By Ahsen Jillani

You know, I have spouted so much nonsense about returning to the soil in the last decade that people around me want to bury me six feet deep in it. The truth is, with my farming prowess, even a pet gerbil would pack up his hamster wheel and depart for greener pastures. The issue for me, as I was painfully delivered into the adventurous side of life at 50, has been bigger than growing lettuce and tomatoes in the backyard. As I age, a larger philosophical monster stands in the dark shadows of my every breath: Father Time, and he is fiercer than Mother Earth.

I am confident that many Eastern and Western philosophers have spent countless hours under the influence of inebriating free time to think what they call “deeply" about, well, Time. The rest of us, we work, and walk around confused about the velocity with which our lives operate. That brings me to the point about the soil. It is fascinating to know, or even imagine, people who live in slow Time. Gardeners and farmers actually operate on experience, a hope, and a promise. Smiling next to a newly-planted field, you are just standing in dirt, and putting your trust in the distant future.

In the new world, which I have no reason to even explain, Time is fast. I need to be reassured via five emails that my eBay purchase of laser toner went through, that PayPal loves me, that the seller loves me, and is lovingly taping my package, and finally the UPS man who loves me is delicately walking my package toward my front door, like a beautiful bride walking down the aisle. In the meantime, I am pacing around, because why is the package taking two days to get to me; when will I be able to open the hungry big jaws of the laser printer and feed it fresh toner. Geez, things are going so slow.

Between these extremes are a thousand elements of Time that react with our brains to make us the calm, reasonable, or jittery people we are. Why are we not getting the results we expect? Why is my relative not responding to my voicemail? Why isn't anybody responding to my funny Facebook post? Why didn't the client respond to my email within two hours? This goes on and on until we run out of heartburn medicine.

A lot of us are actually hybrid “Time Travelers." We will plant flower seeds and patiently water them daily over months. We will over-seed and fertilize the lawn on a cold autumn afternoon knowing that everything will lie dead until the first spring rains. Then we will go inside and spaz out about why Netflix is out for 20 minutes. Our patience clocks seem to shift and overwhelm us from minute to minute—pun intended.

This is a complex issue, and something we hardly pay attention to daily. But I humbly believe that it is an important one. For a decade, I have become fascinated with the multiple clocks that I live my life with. A lot of these clocks run simultaneously as I travel through Almighty Time. I have thought much about synchronizing these clocks. I have given them nature-related terms.

Rocks are things that are very stable in Time. I guess I can say my marriage is one (unless I get screamed at, in which case I call it a flash flood). Leaves are things that are moderate and cyclical. Those could be approaching events like birthdays, anniversaries (which I usually forget), holidays, and festivals. The mind adjusts to those in a different manner due to their safe and evitable nature. Butterflies are just daily random occurrences, some good, others stressful. These range from someone smiling at you to a client wanting a deadline met right now. Glaciers are exactly what they sound like: Very slow-moving things that are powerful and relevant, but you don't feel them grinding everything in their path to a pulp. Those are ageing, disease, your employer loving you or hating you, your relationships strengthening or collapsing. Sea-Changes are obvious but sometimes also random—deaths, births, marriage, loss of job, etc. These become giant red flags in the fabric of Time which define your past forever.

This at best is a crude attempt to explain the many manifestations of Time that run concurrent in our daily lives. Of course, death, your employment, and your tomato plants can't all operate on the same clock. But silly nature analogies aside, I keep thinking that Time can be controlled because it really is a metaphysical entity that is powered by our minds.

Scientists are doing experiments with very old substances like psychedelic mushrooms, which seem to reset mental clocks. Hippies have been trying to replicate these experiments for ages. Many artistic types are not too far behind. It seems we are always in a battle to slow those clocks that are causing stress, anxiety, disease, obesity, and general dysfunction that make us miserable.

Incompetent as I may be with a shovel, I keep getting this weird feeling that the answers are actually in the soil. When hyperactive and stressed reporters on deadline talk to relaxed folks who are 118 years old, the answer is always the same – they take it slow, live moderately, and repeat the same routine daily. In my above analogy, these folks went from glaciers to being rocks. The clock has almost stopped. They are like a brick house. Time erodes it very, very slowly.

Of course, we can't all be farmers, but the trick might be the same in the runaway Time world of today: Slow it down by choosing something you love and enjoy; stick with it and you will be on that proverbial rocking chair watching the corn grow very slowly. Now, how to get there.

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Ahsen Jillani a former editor and publisher, is originally from Islamabad, Pakistan, and now lives in Mint Hill. He owns Must Media, a PR company focusing on both political and corporate clients.