For to be free is not to merely cast off one's chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
- Nelson Mandela -

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Time flies like an arrow - Fruit flies like a banana

I like that quote from Groucho Marx. I first saw it in Newcastle Airport, on the wall of the waiting area. Just the right place for it.

Time has always fascinated me. I can remember that even when I was very young I’d be lying in bed, contemplating the strangeness of time.
I remember trying to figure out how it was possible that something that was measured so precisely still felt differently all the time.
Waiting five minutes for the schoolbus in the pouring rain felt like an eternity, but the same five minutes were just not time enough when I had to get ready to go. Five minutes of practising my scales on the piano were endless, as opposed to five minutes of listening to music before having to go to bed. And even at a young age I wondered if time maybe existed in different realities, simultaneous time zones. When, much much later, I read Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials I immediately thought that he must have been thinking along the same lines.

This past week has been a good example of the tricks time can play on you.
I can’t believe that it’s been more than a week since my previous blog on here. But I do know it took a lot of patience getting through those seven days waiting for news from the estate agent. So how come I was screaming out for more hours in the day to get my work done in time? When I sign a contract to translate a book the deadline always seems reasonably far away, but somehow the closer I get to that deadline, the faster time seems to go...

When I attended the “Soul in Education Conference” in Findhorn (2000) one of the many valuable lessons I learned that week was from
Satish Kumar. The essence of his message was:
‘When God made time, he made plenty of it.’
I remind myself quite often of these words and I find that just by saying them out loud I am creating breathing space. Also, it is a healthy counterweight for our modern day creed ‘Time is Money’ that has taken control of our lives, of our world. Your success in the world seems to be measured by the amount of things you can cram into a day. Quantity determines quality.

Children learn from a young age to do as much as possible in as little as possible time. Their lives are lead first by their parents’ diaries and later by the school’s schedules. How often would a young person have to listen to the words: “No, there’s no time for that now.” Or “Come on, hurry up.” No wonder that when they get to the age where they think they’re in control of their own time, a lot of them prefer to do absolutely nothing and resent pressure of any kind.

Looking back, I think one of the first things my children taught me was to forget about time and totally be in the moment. When I first held AL in my arms there was just no before or after. No thinking about what or when to do next. Only utter wonderment, utter love.
Through my children I learned to look at the world and at myself in a new way. Well, no, not new. I went back to looking at things through the unspoiled eyes of a young child.
AL must have been about six months old when she was outside in the garden, in her baby chair, her eyes fixed on a spider weaving its web just above her head. Nothing could distract her from it and I didn’t try, but watched with her. And watched her. Saw how she reached out with her hand, but found it was too high for her to touch. More watching. Then she started to make little shrieking sounds. The spider froze momentarily in its web and then continued. She shrieked again, the spider froze again. And so it went on. I am absolutely positive that she was ‘learning’ that her actions caused a reaction with the spider.

What DO children learn from that continuous time pressure? Well, my youngest daughter told me that. In Holland we quite often went to the Open Air Museum and spend the day there. One nice summerday I’d set up the ‘picknick point’ on one of the benches in the Museum’s playground. Myrna, who must have been seven at the time, was quite happily playing in the sand and AL and Owen were in the farm next to the playground, milking a goat. Because we came there nearly every week the children knew their way around and the staff knew the children, so it was all very safe and relaxed.
Then two busloads of children on a schooltrip were literally unloaded near the playground. There were at least sixty children, age 9-10, and six teachers/adults. The teacher in charge gathered the whole lot by the entrance and shouted: “We will be here for twenty minutes! Don’t take any clothes off and keep your shoes on! Don’t go outside the playground! In twenty minutes precisely everybody has to be back here!”
And then they released these children. Turned them loose. Myrna had already come out of the sandpit and was sitting on my lap, watching and listening in total amazement. The adults all sat together on the bench next to ours, smoking, and casting disdainful glances in our direction. They were chatting amongst themselves, not watching their charges at all. And these children were screaming and swearing and pushing each other off the swings and the climbing rack. The language was absolutely appalling, but it fitted their behaviour.
I felt I had to say something about it to Myrna, so I made a remark about how they weren’t really being nice to each other and how awful it was that they didn’t wait their turn, and more disapproving judgments.
Myrna looked at me as if I was the dumbest person on the planet: “Mum! Did you not hear what that teacher said! They have twenty minutes to play. Twenty minutes! Now, if YOU only have twenty minutes in a playground, you wouldn’t want to waste that with waiting, would you?”

Educating the children outside the school system has given us the freedom to do things in our own time, at our own speed. In Holland, when we had the business and quite a few ‘social obligations’, our life was still very full and busy. Moving to Cumbria, England, gave us the chance to start all over again and to step out of the ratrace. In a sense, I think it was literally life-saving, because Ken was suffering from a severe burn-out and looked as if he could have a heart attack at any moment. It has been absolutely amazing and miraculous to feel and observe the good it has done all of us. Time is a healer, that’s for sure.
With no social or time pressure we were also able to experience autonomous learning to the full, and I have watched in absolute awe how much and how well the children - and Ken and I! - have learned. By just living our lives, listening to our own bodies and souls, and by being in tune with the world around us. We have arrived at a point where our diaries are quite full again, but the difference now is, that the diary is there to serve us and not to rule us. We are the centre of our own world again, we live our own lives. Time is a great teacher.

When you take time for living, learning will follow... naturally.

Have a wonderful time!


thenewstead5 said...

I can totally identify with this! People say our past influences our future: but when you look at it on a daily basis, it is TOMORROW that matters more. On the last day before you go away on holiday, no matter what the weather, or how much work you've got to do before you can leave work - your spirits are up because you're OFF! Then, the last day of that same holiday, no matter that the sun is shining and you are in a beautiful place.. the thought of returning to home/work the next day can spoil the moment. Our present is affected by our perceived future.

Time is indeed relative. That's one of the gifts I hope I'm giving my children with HE: to have the TIME to be children. To stop and watch the world. To learn. To see. To experience. To find their own rhythm.

And my time with them, as mum, is so precious. I can't understand when people say "oooh, how do you cope with them being around you all day?" ?! I love it! Even on the bad, wet, angry, misunderstood, awkward, days - I'd never swap it. They'll leave me soon enough in body: hopefully HE will have helped knit us together so much that they'll never leave in spirit.

'EF' said...

When I started to read this post I was a bit fidgety (coffee kicking in) but forced myself to give myself TIME to read it

By the end of the post I am less fidgety and wondering about how we will be 'spending' our time today. Normally we divide our time into segments and have to get a certain amount done before we can move onto free time (when the kids can roam)...I like to think this is like an expansion contraction thing, but sometimes it feels like a straightjacket.

Well. This post has certainly been food for thought, and today I will be mindful of time and how often I call out to my kids: "You have twenty/thirty minutes before (X,Y,Z)" .....I will certainly be watching myself about that one now!

liz said...

I really enjoyed this,and I will make much more effort to not feel guilty about having slowed down so much. I heard once that the most important four letter word in a home edders vocabulary is 'wait', adn I tell that to myself regularly too. When they are ready, they'll do it (whatever 'it' is) without prompting and hurrying or stress. It can be hard to remember that sometimes, but it is true.


Mieke said...

I've certainly learned a lot from writing this post and from your comments, both here and in other ways. It's TIME to put it in practice... :)