I cut my hair the other day.
Nothing special—a number one on the clippers, using a mirror and a pattern that works well enough.
What was different this time was the realization that it had now been a month since separating from my partner, and my first time doing it alone in nine years.
Whenever I am cutting or cleaning up hair, I am often thinking four to six weeks behind or ahead of me, as well as thinking about the present.
I mentioned this to a friend, and she said:
“I have an odd thing like that. The day after mum died, I was hand washing the clothes she died in and hanging them on the line. I saw the cherry plum on the back fence was in blossom, and I thought, when it’s in flower again next year I’ll know it’s been a year without mum. Just an odd time marker.”
I have been thinking about time markers ever since. The way that the light creeps into the room past the blackout curtains after bedtime in peak summer. How my son has reached the point where his emotions are largely being self-managed. The way my life shifts roughly every decade. A storm that foretold the start of a new job and the end of a career. The pace of cleaning the house when it is only you.
I have also been aware of the ways that others tell time, and how relative it is to individual and cultural experience. For example, in Australia there is a fascination with Aboriginal seasons, but I am 100 percent sure that there is much more to the realm of time for a people who lived so closely with the earth, sea, and sky for 60,000 years.
It reminds me, too, that the more we sit in front of screens, large and small, the more we constrict ourselves to only a limited idea about time. Instead of being passive about time, subject to the whims of jobs, school schedules, and “consciousness-raising” through early morning routines, I invite us to create space to play with time.
Over the last two years, time has done strange things. You know it, and I know it. Sometimes it has felt like eons. Sometimes it still seems like we are right at the start.
So, let’s play with this idea of time. I am not an expert, so I can only make suggestions, but am eager to hear what you try and how it goes. Here are a few ideas:
>> Reflect on the fact that many places still randomly adjust our clocks forward and backward. Where I am, it’s not even the right way around—why are we saving daylight in the summer? Why stick to the rules? Choose a morning, day, or week where things just feel off and adjust your clock, but in a way that works to suit you.
>> If you are having feelings of overwhelm or loss of control, allow yourself to time travel in your imagination. Go back to August 2019 or any other time you like and do something different. Sleep in, say no, eat the cookie, whatever. Whatever it was creates a ripple that means our current reality doesn’t exist. Or maybe go further to examine personal or social traumas. Now do the same going forward. Imagine something you do today—your art, your kindness, your meditation practice—brings everyone some benefit. It is possible.
>> Draw up two daily calendars; these could be the same or different days. In the first, imagine that you have been gifted the rest you deserve and only have two hours in your day. What do you do? In the other, pretend you are back in college and have a full 24 hours to plan around. How are these the same? How are they different?
In our daily lives, we tend to think of time as linear, but we also know it isn’t always so. Sometimes it speeds up, especially as we age. And other times, we can experience a slowing down of time in moments of emergency and trauma.
Because most people have some experience of these and other strange time-related phenomena, I believe that we can experience time in ways that we used to know back in ancestral times but have removed ourselves from today.
Consider your own time markers. Make your own time. Imagine bending time.
This is an invitation to play, but also to share our own experiences and practices with time.
Please share with me and others in the comments. In my version of time, I imagine you already have.