Essay and Sketch By Mary Reddy
In a way that is difficult to describe, that poets come near to naming, we are intricately connected to everything and everyone else. Yet living in time can make us feel separate from all that is happening. Because it intensifies our moment-to-moment experiences, time brings with it the prospect of loss. And loss feels like the opposite of connection. I remember when I was young, I anticipated loss in every good experience.
It is Easter morning. I sit on the front porch steps next to one of my brothers. I am four years old, still dressed in my Sunday best—a striped seersucker dress and jacket that my mother sewed for me. My brother has already changed into a t-shirt and dungarees. On his head, sits a battered cowboy hat. We each clutch our Easter baskets on our laps and squint into the sun where our mother holds the camera.
An ordinary moment in a little girl’s life, but one I never forgot. Its emotional energy carried an extraordinary weight for me. You see, my brother was vigorously chewing on a piece of candy. And suddenly I was awash in a kind of grief for him. This intense pleasure he took would soon be over. He’d swallow the sweet wad—and then what? I worried for his inevitable loss. As young as I was, I’d learned to distance myself from loss and pain by refusing to fully experience pleasure. And I wondered why my brother did not do the same.
What is it about our human sense of time that lets us live in a moment yet simultaneously pull away from it? A subtle colleague of David’s had this to say:
"Time separates you from experience and places it outside yourself, allowing you to see it as simultaneously objective and subjective. That is, something occurs 'in time" and you have a subjective, internal response to it. For us, it is different. All experience is subjective; things happen to us within us, though our interiority is not exactly the same as your subjective world. Objective and subjective for us are two sides of a single reality, two faces of the same thing. We do not experience events in time but events in consciousness. The experience of time for you separates these two things, giving you the perception that you are separate from the event. This allows you to look at it and relate to it differently than you would if you experienced as we do. As my friend said, you are gifted with a different lens through which to view life and thus learn from new perspectives. That lens is time.”
So we split our experience of events in time. We feel (subjectively) what is going on around us (the objective reality). Before I began to heal, I used this ability to shift from subjective to objective in order to dissociate. Subjectively I lived in fantasies and the dream world. Objectively, I became an impervious survivor. I only had sovereignty in my interior world. My only power in the objective world was to endure, to survive whatever came at me.
Another subtle colleague, the one who spoke in my previous blog of the intensity created by our human sense of time also talked about what happens if we can’t process terribly intense moments:
“You can, of course, become lost in the intensity and the details that your form of time offers, and time can become "stuck" in you in ways it does not in us. This is partly through memory in which the past stays with you but not in an alive way, as if bits of food have become stuck in your digestive system and stagnate without becoming assimilated and integrated.”
Our less-than-conscious grappling with intensity casts a shadow. Maybe this shadow side of time is essential to the “new perspectives” we incarnate humans develop as we come to grips with trauma—something so many of us have experienced. Getting lost in the intensity aptly describes the results of trauma: something horrible happened in the past and we got stuck. In order to heal, we need to somehow unstick and integrate intense emotions that we were originally unable to bear.
The accumulation of trauma in my early life taught me to distance myself from the emotional impact of any event. Years later, when I began to experience the full force of another difficult experience, I would be overwhelmed by all the unfelt emotions of so many difficult times in my life. Years of trying to avoid the full impact of any present moment distorted my sense of time. In a scary way, all the bad moments seemed to be always present. Therefore I chose not to be present.
Imagine so many difficult moments stuck and unassimilated, accumulating into a blanket that muffled me away from life. Being fully present became possible for me slowly as, with the assistance of others, I processed old bad moments. Healing, as I experienced it, became a dance between the objective and the subjective. A kind of time travel too, where I’d “return” to a painful moment subjectively to feel the emotions in a way that allowed me to assimilate them. But if pain threatened to overwhelm me I could grab on to the objective experience of where I was now, safely in a later time.
This twofold view must be a part of the magic we can create if we consciously engage with time and events. And one gift of our time-embedded lens is the vision and empathy afforded us when we heal, when we integrate our difficult experiences. Another might be the necessity of healing in partnership with the body which stores each stuck moment. Rewriting the body’s blueprint from one of trauma to one of safety and joy taught me how to collaborate with the entities of the physical world, how to respect the separate yet connected experiences of all the beings involved.
As I live now, I try to place myself fully in each moment while retaining a compassionate awareness of its place in the timeline of my life. Now I am in time by choice, not trying to float above it. And that choice illuminates my links to everything and everyone else.
Time Magicians: Part 1 of this essay can be found here. Time Presence: Part 2 can be found here.