The Unravelling of Time: A Journey of Unlearning and Discovery

June 20, 2023
For most of my adult life, up until about ten years ago, I structured my days around the steady progression of the clock and the calendar. Time was a measurable and linear entity – a valuable commodity where efficiency reigned supreme. "Time is money" was a phrase I often repeated. It wasn’t until around 2009, when I began living and working in rural indigenous communities in Guatemala, that I began to realize that this idea of time was just that – an idea. It was there that I encountered a different perspective, one that challenged my deeply ingrained notions and sparked a continuous process of learning and unlearning ever since. I came to realize that my (Western) perception of time was nothing but a construct, but a construct that held profound significance when it came to my work and my world.

Perhaps a better way to describe this is as a paradigm. A paradigm refers to a particular worldview or framework of understanding that shapes our perception and interpretation of reality. The linear concept of time, prevalent in Western societies, views time as a one-dimensional progression that moves in a straight line from the past, through the present, and into the future. This paradigm assumes that time is constant, uniform, and can be measured and divided into equal segments.

But what if it isn’t?

Over the years I have worked hard to detangle my thinking from this predominant paradigm, and learn to see time through different cultures and philosophical traditions. And when I embarked upon the writing of The Weaver’s Way, I knew I had to dig even deeper – earnestly seeking to understand more how our fundamental beliefs about time may impact the way that we bring about change in the world. Countless hours, even days, have been spent in deep conversations with friends and colleagues, primarily from indigenous communities around the world, in pursuit of this understanding.

Perhaps one of the most poignant of those was with Abigail Quic who, in addition to being a cherished friend and soul sister, is Tzutujil Maya. Abigail and I have been on a mutual quest to comprehend each other's concept of time for some years now. In one unforgettable conversation, she turned to me and asked: “So if time is money, if you are always thinking about how you spend your time – haven’t you commodified our friendship?”

That was the beginning of a pivotal moment for me in my work as a change maker, and my understanding of what it takes to foster greater justice and equality in the world.

As I discovered more, I came to see how our Western view of time is deeply tied to the particularly troublesome belief that our worth is derived from our ability to produce work. I also started to notice how many people I’d grown up with held onto the idea that they were “time-poor”, and the ways that played out in their lives and relationships. And I also began to see – particularly amongst those of us that identify as change-makers – how it can cause us to become driven by an obsessive sense of urgency. 

Through these conversations, Abigail and others helped me to see that in my sense of urgency, in my drive for efficiency and results, I rushed past and overpowered the very voices, experiences and perspectives that were essential in creating the kind of change that I hoped for.

May I learn all the ways in which I do not really see you. All the ways I rush through you, past you, over you. May I learn to pause in your presence.

But irrespective of whether or not you see yourself as a change-maker, I believe there is an important lesson here for all of us. An invitation for a different way to be in the world. As Abigail’s mother, Loida Cholotío, explained in our conversations:

“You must learn patience. Everything requires time and the right circumstances to happen. Your job is to become aware of this and learn how to shape the right conditions. Rushing the process will not solve anything. Everything has its time.” 

This advice is an invitation to slow down. To pay attention. To notice ourselves in an interconnected web of other moving parts.

I tried to capture this notion in The Weaver’s Way framework through the concept of “timefulness”. But I found an even better explanation recently when I was walking on Wiradjuri land in Victoria, Australia beside Dhungala (the great Murray River). There, I came across a sign that explained the Wiradjuri concept of Yindyamarra. It is a word that captures the idea of respect and gentleness and kindness all in one, of doing things slowly. In the Wiradjuri language, Yindyamurra in action (Yindyamarra Winhanganha) means 'the wisdom of respectfully knowing how to live well in a world worth living in'. Yes! This is what I strive for.

As I practice Yindyamarra Winhanganha, my new relationship with time is one of discovery marked by small steps and ample time for reflection. One of the steps that I have taken is to replace the idea of “spending” time with “investing” time. Perhaps it’s still a commodification, but it at least allows me to reframe what I am doing in terms of what is important and valuable.

I’ve also tried to bring an awareness of the importance of a pause. Every few days, when I notice something special, I make a conscious invitation to myself to “linger in this moment”. And when I do, I can’t help but smile – lingering just feels so delicious somehow. 

Finally, I’ve tried to unlearn urgency. This has been perhaps the most interesting of all. I’ve discovered that letting go of urgency in no way means losing the sense of importance. In fact as I’ve let go of urgency and the busyness it creates, I feel clearer than ever about what is important and where I need to focus my attention in order to achieve the greatest impact.

How does your perception of time influence your daily life, your relationships, and the work you do? Are there any deep-rooted beliefs or assumptions about time that may be worth reexamining? I’d love to hear from you about your experiences – send me a message and say hello and wherever you may be, may you find the opportunity to s

Photo by Brett Jordan
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