Bubbles of Time by Paul O’Grady
Some time ago a journalist asked me a very good question in relation to my son. She asked what I had learned from him. It was a simple and yet surprisingly thought provoking question and I appreciated it. What I concluded after some pause, was that my son was teaching me a great deal about time – how he relates to it, how I relate to it and how we relate to each other through the harmony or discord of our individual bubbles of time. Being a bit of a Star Trek fan (if you can be „a bit“ of a fan), brought to mind an episode where time has become fractured, leaving bubbles of time running at different speeds, and this all made me wonder if this wasn’t in fact the truth of our non-extra terrestrial realities.
When my son Liam plays with his toys he does for hours on end, often by choice alone and with deep concentration and contentment. One reason for this is that we have no television at home – a life and parenting choice. However I think his contentment comes more from his peaceful existence within time. He is only three, so one might reasonably expect that he doesn’t have a cognitive understanding of his own mortality and therefore it may also be reasonable to conclude, that for him, time is perhaps infinite and therefore why would he be rushing about?
On average an older person could fairly expect to have less time on their side, so is that why I find myself in this constant race with time and against it? As an entrepreneur I find the pressure to always have something new coming down the track that allows us to live and possibly thrive – the only problem is that this forward thinking strategy constantly displaces my thought patterns away from the present and into the future. So many things must be done before that future unfolds – a type of panic to fix the rails in place correctly so that the family and financial trains don’t derail when they get here. But where is here, or perhaps a better question – when is here? Here would seem to be now, and for my son it clearly is – but my here and now are displaced into the future, so I find it a huge challenge to be present fully for my son as he is for me. I think some days my son verbalises this without all the temporal musings. He sometimes is mad at me for not being there – he doesn’t quite know how to communicate it, especially when physically I am, and moreover I am playing with him – but he perceives that I am in my bubble and he in his. Sometimes he just says „Daddy didn’t play with me today“ – my wife comes to my defense but his verdict is sound.
In these moments, which I am sure all of us as parents have experienced, I am not there and what is worse than not being there, I am sure that the more I displace my mind into the future the faster I pull my time along with it. So can we change this experience of being in a different bubble of time? Can we slow our time down so that we coalesce with another and can therefore connect at a meaningful level?
When I studied a year of engineering before becoming an architect, I had the pleasure to be taught theoretical physics by a professor called Alex Montwill. For three days straight, he lectured us on the „relative“ nature of time. For a brief moment my young mind comprehended, then overloaded. What I do remember taking from this deeply complex subject was that in some way, time was malleable. Another observation that crosses my mind is that it appears to be only humans and the higher primates that have a „perception“ of time, which also seems to be intrinsically connected with self awareness. Is this not a twisted gift to the human race – the ability to be self aware and control time but the propensity for many of us to be slaves to it? And yet those that live outside of this slavery to time, seem to be those considered „less developed“. It brings me full circle to wonder if the deepest wisdom of being lies within those who align so naturally to time – the other beings that inhabit this beautiful planet and of course our kids?
I think places also exist in time bubbles – when you go on a holiday and it takes you a day or two to readjust. I get this effect when I come home after being away for more than a couple of days. During my time away I think about being home and this strong emotional momentum into the future often catapults me right past my family when I return, still being in tomorrow mode – the place I have just come from. In fact these are experiences that I believe we all perceive to be inherently true – time is what you make of it and how you choose to perceive it. The Irish author John O’Donohoe wrote in his acclaimed book on Celtic spirituality Anam Cara that the soul moves at a much slower pace and more natural pace than the body or mind – thus when the Celts traveled over great distances they would periodically stop to allow their souls to catch up. Effectively when we race around we displace our energy and it becomes less intense. Perhaps time is the cosmic leash that drags us back to what is real, being with our children, watching a sunset, making love passionately, our relationships, our dreams, our mortality, our value?
For me one of the great ironies of my displacement into the future, is that it is done in the service of being able to provide for my family. However this is exactly the disservice that I am doing them – by being there, not here and then, not now. What would the world look like if we all just let it be, and is that the same as ceding responsibility to a higher being, the universe or fate? Is this the same as the concept of non-resistance or the constant reference to wholeness and balance in Celtic spirituality? I think it’s all vaguely one version of the same thing – maybe we need to stop trying to be and accepting what we actually are. I know that our kids wouldn’t mind this. It might give them more space to be who they really are, if we as parents didn’t have to be omnipotent. It seems clear in modern family psychology that one of the highest generators of stress, are the expectations of the parents to be some sort of super parents. Would being „just good enough“ be too hard to accept – could we live with truth of being OK parents, rather than aspiring and failing to reach such lofty goals? It’s probably no surprise that we have come to this juncture.
The „perfecting“ of our society is all around and heavily driven at us through the media. Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Committed looked at western societies demands for all of us to be perfect partners in marriage – best friend, soul mate, fantastic lover, financial expert, counselor, massage therapist, comedian, resourceful, creative… the list goes on. Would you apply for a job if all these things were requirements at the highest levels? And yet in western society this is what we often expect of each other and ourselves as partners – and to the same unreasonable high standards, we expect our abilities as parents to be. What we end up with is the illusion that we can be what sometimes we are not, and hence we chase our lives into the future in search of that which doesn’t exist.
But here’s the kind irony, if you just stop, wait a while and let go, just like the Celtic soul – all will align, including time. And there within your soul and your bubble of time is your child – now in harmony with you, and your worlds can embrace and flow within time and without time.