Many Paths Pavilion - Basic Spirituality area

Time and the Art of Intimacy

by J. Bennett

There comes a point in the fragility of a thing when we start to notice and respond with care, with listening, or with mindfulness. Paint chips in an old building, the leaves of an unwatered plant turn crisp, and the restive baby -- left in the sun too long -- whines and howls. Our contact with the way things age, with their vulnerability and their exposure, makes them more than things. Attentiveness and compassion initiate an ongoing renewal, a nurturing and a protection, that may otherwise never unfold. Intimacy is born in even just the hint of this cherishing: where the aging of things meets a cradle of care, where we sense that we are all subject to time's flow.

Rushing around from one activity to another, we generally do not have the time for this kind of intimacy. The common complaint is that one never has enough time to do all that one wants or needs. Too many of us are too busy to think about or spend time with the precious things of life. While researching this book I discovered one peculiar reason for all the rushing, busyness, and complaining. Many writers - philosophers, scientists, poets - indicate that it isn't that we don't have enough time; rather, it is because we think of time solely as something we can have (for example, to measure, spend, or buy time) that we have created a world of pressure, deadlines, and appointments. The issue lies not in time itself but in how we think about it and how we use the metaphors we do in our conversations and everyday language.

Instead of thinking of time as a quantity that is objective and separate or as an end to be reached we can think of it more poetically as a quality or the means to and end. One purpose of this book is to help us to think about time in new ways. For example, as I suggested above, we can think of time as the source of preciousness in all things. Seen in this way no longer is only our time precious but Time itself becomes precious. With an awareness of such impermanence, our sense of separateness may dissolve: we really see just how fragile it all is. We learn that time and intimacy are interconnected. The inevitable decay of this world holds suffering in all that we are able to touch; and more, for all that touches us. Here is our interconnectedness. For if we are all separate egos and left only to ourselves - our portals of self-resilience, self-protection - we will fail to inter-touch. Time's flow is only seen as decay and never yields the insight of preciousness.

This way of understanding time may be clear to you who have looked deeply into your lover's eyes or held your newborn child. Many of us also know it through simple communication, through sharing the routines of daily life, or through participating in the gradual creation of our collective stories. Human contact -- in all its many forms -- intimates something essential, something alive and precarious. When love comes with it's honor of the delicate, we create or embrace a context for each other's pain - the pain of decay, of loss, and of death. In each moment of our mutual gaze, we can transform fragility into preciousness.

Time can become our companion or guide rather than a method (schedule or calendar) for structuring our lives. It is much easier to understand the concept of eternity when we view time as something precious than as something we measure. Those who fall in love, mystics, and those in a state of rapture have felt this sense of eternity. What once caused these individuals to notice - the once fragile and later precious beloved - begins to radiate throughout all of time and so become timeless. From this height of intimacy human beings throughout history have reported seeing and understanding both change and permanence. Many religious writers and philosophers recognize both impermanence -- that all things do pass -- and permanence -- there is something connecting and Passing within all things. This Passing has been given many names - the Tao, God, the Unconditioned, the Absolute, Eternity, The Indivisible. In spiritual writing, this Passing recedes or moves into an indescribable Receptacle - The Void, Emptiness, The Unobstructed, The Great Goddess, The Mother of All Things.

Of course, eternity is perhaps only understood by mystics, and only believed in by the truly devout, the truly spiritual. I have only wanted to show that it is possible to think about time other than in the ordinary ways we have confined ourselves to. I also wanted to introduce the idea that time and intimacy are related in different ways: when we encounter something fragile and respond with care, when - through the desire for ongoing care - we feel that something is precious, when we appreciate the impermanence of all things of which we are a part, and when - through a shift in consciousness or spiritual encounter - we sense or come to believe in something that endures forever. Intimacy, in each of these experiences, meets for the purpose of meeting. It lives purely in the Meeting, in the purity of knowing what it meets and as it meets. Intimacy, itself, is not about capturing, fixing, or transcending. For then the preciousness goes.

by Joel Bennett, PhD, who facilitates workshops and retreats on time and intimacy for singles and couples

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