It's About Time

This time. Next time. The last time. In time. Outa time. All in good time. Time out. It’s Millah time! Summertime. Hit! Me! One! More! Time! Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Time after time. The only time. Need more time. Time will tell. Old-time. One time . . .

The clocks changed this past weekend and for a few weeks we all get to grumble about “losing” an hour. Time! What is time? Anybody else besides me complain about time? If anything, the change in our clocks shows us that time is relative, that if we can lose or gain an hour, time it’s an illusion. Even a discipline as concrete as physics says that time is relative. Yet if time is an illusion, how come we so often feel hijacked by these two imaginary but impossibly strong hands, the hour hand and the minute hand, and then strangled with a third merciless hand, the seconds hand?

Yoga teaches us that time is a construct and that our practice is to avoid living in the future or the past and be present. All we have is now. The future is an abstraction; the past is a memory. I remember once sitting in a coffee shop in Kauai. I looked at the clock and someone had taped the word, “NOW” over all of the numbers so that it was always pointing to now. Brilliant! I wish I had come up with that.

In one climax of the ancient myth of The Ramayana, the demon king Ravana stood alone on the palace ramparts knowing that on the next morning he would meet his doom. His armies had been decimated by the valiant prince Rama and all of his friends had fled refusing to support Ravana in his evil desires to keep the stolen princess Sita. That night, on the roof of his palace, Ravana knew that he was seeing his last sunset. He became almost drunk with the sweet nectar of the moment, drinking in the soft glow of dusk, the hushed quietness before the storm of battle, the sweet smell in the evening breeze, and delicious solitude. Almost with glee Ravana spontaneously began to dance, his many heads turning, his several arms twisting, his feet spontaneously stepping in time. It was such a spectacle to see this ecstatic dance that the gods of the sun, the moon, the wind, and the earth – most all of the gods – stopped what they were doing to watch Ravana’s last dance.

Upon his final step, Ravana stomped his foot fiercely and the world heard a loud crack. Something broke. One of the gods was conspicuously absent from Ravana’s last dance. It was Kala, the god of time. He was hiding in the shadows waiting to meet Ravana on the way down the stairs from the ramparts. Kala crept out of the shadows, a dusty skeleton, and rebuked Ravana as he passed. “It’s just a matter of time, old fool, until you become dust like everyone else,” Kala sneered. “You thought you were immortal, that you were the king of all and therefore above the laws of the universe, but no one escapes me. Not even you.” Ravana smiled at Kala and called his bluff. “Kala, you’re a sham, a fake, a phony.” At first Kala was confused, incensed, and offended. “Now you really have gone crazy,” Kala retorted. Ravana held his argument, “How many times have I woken from a dream and felt time had moved too slowly or too quickly? And why is it that time moves so slowly when you are young, and so quickly when you are old? And how do you explain what happens in those critical moments of life and death when time stops completely? You attempt to bind us with invisible cords but I see your game.” And laughing to himself, Ravana walked away. The loud crack the world heard upon his last step was the sound of Ravana breaking the bonds of time. Ravana slept well that night knowing that although he would die in the morning, he had already been victorious over the larger battle with time.

How do we claim victory over the tyranny of time? How do we practice being here with this moment, this breath, this second? Start by tuning into your senses. Move your body. Hold a pose. Open your eyes and see what is right here. Practice being present with those you love.

During these weeks as our minds and bodies grapple with time “changing,” I invite you to practice presence. Come to yoga and move your body through its own dance with presence.

Here’s one of my favorite poems by Wendell Berry that speaks perfectly to presence.

What We Need Is Here

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.