Time, the Moon, and Mary Oliver

by | Jan 30, 2019

As I watch the first month of the new year end, I am considering my relationship to time. Most days, it isn’t a good one. To my mind, each day begins so full of potential and then, by day’s end, that potential seems to have frittered away. So this morning, I meditated on time, the moon, and Mary Oliver.

When I lead writing workshops I always begin with an exercise called Here and Now, a present moment-focused, grounding warm up that lasts for 10 minutes and functions like a writing meditation. I turn to this practice personally as well, and this is part of what I wrote this morning:

The rising grey light of morning. Earlier, while it was still mostly dark, a sliver of moon in an indigo sky. That clear, pure, white light, symbolic of cycles, of time, but more accurately of nature. Our relationship to time rises out of nature, but on the way gets separated from it. Poetry can bring the connection back. Poets like Mary Oliver capture these moments of nature caught in time and reflect them back to us. (“This grasshopper, I mean–the one who has flung herself out of the grass…” ~ Mary Oliver). We lost this precious poet this year, but we will continue to be nourished by the words she took the TIME to create and write down. (“I’m going to die one day. I know it’s coming for me, too. I’ll be a mountain, I’ll be a stone on the beach. I’ll be nourishment.” ~ Mary Oliver)

We are all in relationship to time everyday. It is a precious resource—only 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year. These human-made measurements of time, and how we interpret them, can sometimes wreak havoc in the mind.

Yet nature gives us cycles and rhythms, bound by repetition and movement. Unless you’re at the equator, each day the sun rises and sets a little bit differently throughout the year. Time is never exactly the same on any given day, and neither is our experience of it.

Many writers struggle with finding time to write, or making the best use of their writing time, or they chase deadlines, or craft ideal yet difficult-to-stick-to schedules. Yet I think many of us are drawn to writing because of the timeless nature of it, because of the way we can lose ourselves in the process and forget about time. Writers are also arbiters of time—we compress and expand it through words designed to create experiences in the minds of readers. We help others transcend and travel through time, at least in the imagination.

What is your relationship to time? When do you feel you have too much of it? Not enough? When do you forget about time? When are you preoccupied with it?

My mind tells me there is never enough of it, and this same mind encourages me to cram too much into it. We all have access to the same 24 hours in a day, but how often are we attending to the quality of that experience, to the nature of that relationship? It is up to us whether we relate to time as friend or foe.

Creators tend to focus on the fleeting nature of time, because we understand, conceptually and physically, that creation occurs within a crucible of time, and life is only so long. So time anxiety is understandable, perhaps even warranted, but we cannot let it cripple us. We must become friendly with the limitations time imposes on us.

We can choose instead to relate with joy and wonder at this opportunity to live and create with time, to cultivate a healthy relationship with it, to be inspired by the many insightful words that poets of the present and the past have left for us, including the one-of-a-kind Mary Oliver, who said:

I decided very early that I wanted to write. But I didn’t think of it as a career. I didn’t even think of it as a profession… It was the most exciting thing, the most powerful thing, the most wonderful thing to do with my life.”

Is it time to make writing the most wonderful thing in your life?


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