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Chamnongsri Rutnin Hanchanlash

The western image of old Father Time with bent back, hoary beard, and the ubiquitous scythe that cuts down all living and non-living things, does not fit my own impression of Time.

Every moment is so immaculately new. How, then, can Time be old?

Time, for me, is as young, lithe, and fresh as a mountain breeze at dawn - the very essence of renewal. Perhaps something not too different from Michael Angelo’s David - that potent, magnificence of youth.

Such physical things as the human-body, buildings, trees, grow old with time. But - not Time itself. When people talk about 'old-time music' or 'the good old times', they are not talking about Time, but about the style and society of an era. Time is, in that context, the canvas on which the picture is painted.

The focus of my image of Time would be the hands - strong and beautiful – one giving, the other gathering.

Having lived with life for quite an embarrassing number of decades, I have learnt that Time is incessantly giving and taking – not from benevolence or cruelty, simply because of its nature - just as it is the nature of water to take the form of its container, and of fire to burn.

Had I been forced by some imaginary dictator to choose between ‘benevolent’ and ‘cruel’ to describe Time, I would unhesitatingly opt for the former. Not out of any sense of obligation to spread seasonal cheer and optimism, but because Time is such a great and gracious dispenser of opportunities.

Great because every moment is in itself a new opportunity to become truly alive. Gracious because it sets no conditions and asks nothing in return.

I often marvel at the continuous flow of opportunities in the course of a lifetime. Each moment - especially when Challenge throws a gauntlet at our feet - we are given the chance to grow, to renew, to rectify, to reflect, to learn, to forgive, to let go - all in all to celebrate the beauty of the human heart.

Whether the opportunity that comes with each new moment is seen, seized and optimized is up to each individual; Time has nothing to do with it. It does not reward those who make the best of the opportunity nor does it blame those who ruin it or punish those turn it into a chain of problems. The rewards and penalties both are part and parcel of the natural law of causality and are inevitably interwoven into the fabric of our personality.

Sometimes when walking alone on the sun-speckled paths among the tall trees of my Chiengmai garden, I know with great clarity that Time does not exist. It is a human invention. We invent Time, putting it in our own context of seconds, minutes, hours, to fit our need to organize our lives. We also have a crying need to measure in a non-spatial way our lives, loves, longings – because for these there are no spatial measurements.

‘History’ attempts to captures Time in dates, dissecting, labeling and encapsulating the pieces in years, centuries, eras and whatnots. Its value lies in the insight gained from the study and interpretation of the human experience.

Having made a lofty philosophical point about the non-existence of time, I have, in the past few hectic last days of the year, caused dire misery to both the young and the old around me with cries of “Oh, oh, what shall I do?! What shall I do?! I’ve promised to write an article about Time for the Bangkok Post! Where shall I find the time? I haven’t even the time to think! Oh… Oh… Oh…”

My husband was aghast and, exclaiming, “You write about Time?” He, incidentally, is one of those cheerful organizers of time who, despite the multiple hats he is wearing (close to twenty by last count) with never a complaint. Musing along leafy garden paths is not among his enjoyments.

Between the two of us we should fall somewhere close to the median - perhaps veering a little to my side.

For instance, if it hadn’t been for me he would always be very first to arrive at social functions. There have been times when we have had to park outside our hosts’ gates in order not to fluster the hostess by turning up half an hour early. In all fairness I must mention that there have been times when our hosts started to rearrange sitting plans in view of one missing couple.

We travel a great deal. Again, if it hadn’t been for me, the ground staff would have been condemned to the frequent sight of two senior cherubs wilting on lounge seats hours before the boarding call. As things are, they have become familiar with the inarguably livelier vision of two hell-angels whizzing through on the last note of the final boarding call.

The duality of Time makes it difficult to avoid self-contradiction. Having said that Time is merely an intangible human invention, I am constantly running out of it. Green envy stirs in my heart whenever I hear anyone complain of having too much time on their hands. Oh, how I would have loved to have all of the precious stuff languishing on their hands.

In the course of my ‘no-time-to-think’ panic, I asked Jayasaro Bhikkhu, a Buddhist monk, what would he write about Time if he was in my shoes.

“For someone who has no time to think, you are thinking yourself into quite a state,” he remarked.

He own focus would be on understanding human suffering and its cessation in relation to Time. He would ask his readers to reflect on the ways and occasion in which our relationship to Time cause suffering, in which it brings joy and happiness, to what extent are those experiences of suffering and happiness fixed and immutable, and to what extent can we reduce the pain and increase the happiness by wisely changing our relationship to time?

He wondered why people with the most access to time-saving technologies suffer most from time poverty.

“I think I’d tell a story – a true one… Many years ago a young Western monk left Wat Suan Mokh for a period of solitary retreat in a cave. As he left, construction was just beginning on a building shaped like a ship.

Three years later he returned and while walking around the monastery with the abbot, Buddhadasa, he noticed the construction still going on and remarked how the work was still unfinished. Buddhadasa said, ‘It’s complete.’ The young monk, looking over at the activity on the work site, was confused. Buddhadasa calmly explained ‘The parts that have been built so far are complete.’ "

Has that anything to do with the word “Timeless”?



From: Outlook, Bangkok Post, January 1, 2005.

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