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Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Still Point of the Turning World

Is existence the opposite of time?

After some reflection, I arrived at this question today. It's New Year's Eve, the one day of the year when we seem to stop. Most of us, even the most appalling of cretins (and there are some), give some thought to where we've been and where we hope to go. We can't help ourselves.

In these still moments, we are alive to self. We are in that place T.S. Eliot called "the still point of the turning world":
   ...Neither flesh nor fleshless;
    Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
    But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
    Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
    Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
 So here we are today at the liquid center, within the heart between beats, placed in the awareness between one thought and the next. And towards what end? Peace? Clarity? Maybe, but recognizing and honoring this place, bringing it to mind every day, living outside of time is my resolution for the New Year. There is a lot of talk about "living in the moment" but this is different. This place, devoid of regrets or goals, triumphs or fears, those products of the ticking clock, is the only thing that is real. The past, imperfectly remembered, is gone. The future may never be. And this still place is all our existence has ever been, each moment following on the next. It is time, after all, that molds our perception that anything is passing away or approaching. And what is time but a human device to make us run fast?

In the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder, the character Emily dies in childbirth and is allowed to go back and relive a day with her family. She chooses her twelfth birthday and is shocked by the beauty and pathos of the small moments. She asks the ever-present Stage Manger, "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?" He answers that most don't, except the “saints and poets, maybe.” 

This year I will be the same age as my mother when she died after a life of trying to keep all the plates spinning, all the pots boiling, and above all, hearing the clock tick forward while she glanced over her shoulder at the past. I wonder now if she ever gave herself these moments of quiet awareness. I hope so. This year, rather than a traditional resolution, I will give myself a gift and a charge: to live when I can at the still point and love what's there.

Happy New Year

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