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Time and Our Vision
What Can We Learn?
In continuing this journey of cross-learning, if you will, it may seem that I’m going a little further beyond my scope of knowledge. After all, time and space are the areas of specialty for those pursuing metaphysics. Maybe others, too, the spiritualists among us, but not tap dancers. Without bringing up any number of valid defenses now, I’ll just say this: I’m venturing here hoping to work out some connections that I’ve experienced. Namely, how our perception of time may deeply change how we see the world.
How much time do we have?
The recognition of time, when it comes into our consciousness is probably one of the first encounters with a limiting factor on our lives that we cannot work to ultimately overcome. Other limitations have a way of at least giving us the perception of being able to overcome them with some effort and some degree of causal outcome. Exercise and technology may help overcome some physical limitations, and study and communal support may help overcome some intellectual limitations. Our limitation in time operates quite differently. One way this dynamic operates is in posing the question of, “how much time is there?” and more personally and maybe more profoundly, “How much time do I have?” Ideas of the infinite and the eternal come from attempts to answer the first question. While mid-life and quarter-life crises happen when we misjudge our answer to the latter question. We thought we had more time.
Let’s experiment a little with how different answers to the above questions might lead to different dispositions – and of course to different actions. I’m going to focus on the more personal question because I’ve found questions of that sort to probe my inner landscape more deeply. Additionally, I’ve realized that time has a powerful relationship to accomplishment, or more generally, my sense of doing. So, I will include that aspect in this little experiment.
So, say we have a particular task we feel a need to accomplish. It could be something as seemingly mundane as brushing our teeth, or as life-changing as having a child. The fact that tasks like these are classified as needs is enough to warrant some pause and thought. Whether a task is an actual need for the health and well-being of our souls, somehow a derivative need (maybe for the care of our mind or body), or rather something we want (whether for good or evil doesn’t make much difference here), is a worthwhile categorization for further inquiry. Regardless we often approach our days, months, years, and lives, with a list (either explicit or implicit) of things we want or feel compelled to do. This list then encounters our limited nature. In a world that can elevate productivity, high profile accomplishment, and scale as virtues (not just aspirations), our list of tasks often outweighs the amount of time we even think we have. Here, our answer to the question, “How much time do I have?” is extremely important.
Do we envision a world in which we have “all the time in the world” or do we limit our sense of time with deadlines (personal or professional)? Here I’d like to share this framework that I’ve experienced in Tap Dance Land that I’ve found helpful in other pursuits. We begin with the idea that time (the fact that we can perceive a “before” a “now” or “during” and a “after” or “later”) exists. It is the context in which action happens. This experience of time need not be organized per se. The organization of time is a separate step that happens as we define our relationship to time. Maybe we come to desire frames of reference for the actions we are endeavoring to accomplish. Maybe we need frames of reference to communicate or coordinate actions with others. In Tap Dance Land the organization of time can be highly specific, facilitating the unison dancing of many dancers with a degree of accuracy that is comparable to Olympic synchronized swimmers in some cases. The ability to thrive in a highly specified and organized time scale requires a series of skills and is trainable. However, those skills are different from the perspective that sees the broader, longer, even more abstract idea that time simply exists, without much need for us to define it or our relationship to it.
These two approaches to time are, in my view, points on a spectrum. We move across the spectrum, sometimes dealing with time in the more general sense, while organizing time very specifically at others. One thing that I’ve experienced is that my field of view – the things I can see or even imagine – changes dramatically depending on my position on the spectrum.
What can we see?
When time is explicitly organized and highly specified, I find that my field of view focuses. It naturally narrows so that I can pay attention to the details around the organization of time, and the specific actions related to the points of time I’m paying attention to. In Tap Dance Land specific movements align to specific points in time. Both are highly defined. They both can be articulated with detail to be rehearsed, taught, and replicated.
In contrast, when my relationship to time is broader, my field of view opens. My thoughts have room to shift from the thing that I am doing right now (like writing this piece), to the person I hope to become, or the life I hope to have. These larger thoughts might sound abstract, but they can be equally defined with detail as the minute-to-minute tasks I engage in daily. The mid-range view of time might be of help here.
Thinking of time in the midrange, in chunks of a few months, or a few years, brings to my mind different kinds of goals. What can be accomplished in a few months, or a few years? What choices must I make to really give those goals a shot at coming to life. The midrange undercuts the dreaminess of the abstract, while connecting the minute-to-minute tasks to larger ideas, hopes, and goals.
In areas of life that focus on productivity, efficiency, and accomplishment, there are many tools available for becoming the kind of person who can get what they want. Thinking through the connection between time and vision might be an additional key to unlock how we can work through some of this. I have found that I need time specifically devoted to all three areas of focus – the short, mid, and very long range. They need to be connected for me. If I can’t see the connection, I have a harder time showing up. I am also predisposed to living in a particular time scale. I like the very small and the very large. I don’t like the middle. It feels like there is too much at stake, and not enough feedback, to make the best possible choice in the middle of everything. So, I avoid it.
What’s your predisposition? What scale of time is easy for you to think about? What kind of vision do you sit into easily? How might you begin to explore the other ways to relate to time?
Knowing our predispositions, even as we are benefited and hampered by them, is a great first step into the exploration of other ways of thinking. Seeing the connection between our relationship to time and our own vision might open the door to a playful way of growing. Can’t dream big? Think about time in the larger scale, and just sit with that for a while. Don’t know what to do right now? Shrink your view of time.
Of course, other things might come up as we do this. Fears and pressures may come along as we experiment with our relationship to time. These should be acknowledged and known as natural parts of thinking about time along the entire spectrum. There may not be any simple solutions to such things, but I have found that sitting with them is helpful. My fears and pressures, especially those that amplify when time is limited, draw me towards deeper things. Why do a feel such pressure with this deadline? What about thinking of time in the longer term worries me? With this connection – between time, vision, and our innate response to adjusting both – in place, we can consciously use looking at time and our related vision adjustment to dig deeper into important parts of ourselves. We can use our innate responses to probe our why, to unearth unarticulated dreams, and to make more conscious choices regarding our pursuits across the spectrum of our relationship to time.
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