“Being still, and doing nothing are two very different things.”
For an isolated self-sustaining, tiny biological environment under observation, if one could somehow contract the span of time it would take a young bud to unfurl itself into a radiant leaf in said system, the aesthetic pleasure derived from that observation would be equivalent to silently observing from a distance, the magnanimous beasts that metropolitans are, teeming with life at night. Not intervening, not imposing yourself on this dynamic system, but simply, letting the flow of a mechanized rhythm take its place with an ear poised to listen to the gentlest rustle.
Such a thriving mechanism fills the observer with endless fascination. As we drive by the highway at night, heading to return to the land of the subconscious as guided by our primeval biological clocks, it seems as if the internal clock that authorizes the working of these giant beings that are the metropolitans runs opposite to our own. For when we slumber, it keeps vigil over the night skies with its glittering, watchful eyes.
Over a similar experience, once I saw a hooded figure blur past my window on a lane shadowed by the night but glowing ghostly under the pale street lamps while frequently, headlights flashed past us as we turned on an exit to enter the main flow of traffic traversing its gravel plane. I remember thinking, on spotting the hooded figure of the shadows jogging in the night, that there were many, many aspects of the city life one can never truly grasp the complexity of.
Simultaneously, a million activities are taking place, millions of incidents unfolding themselves as if our microscopic human bubble was as sophisticated and mystifying as, when compared with the macroscopic cosmos itself. It breathes into one’s perception the idea that time is an enigma that the more we try to grasp at it, the more it distances itself from us.
A metaphysical concept, the evasiveness of which confounds as much the ordinary person as physicists, paleontologists, and geologists in all its relativity of passage, the artistically trained hand with which it gives shape to sea and land; the insurmountable power with which it turns rock and bone to sand.
Did we devise its existence, that as we grew accustomed to the rapid frequency of change all around us, those changes required a measurable quantity against it to render it quantifiable as well? Perhaps it was the other way around.
What is it in a windswept rock’s tendency to be still and surrender itself to the elements that result in such a drastic change, through decay, for it to emerge at one with the earth years after ?
Does time pass for a star when the star collapses?
Somewhere, the silent scream of agony shatters the window-panes of a troubled mind. And if time is something gauged from the frequency of change, so for that scream that sees no end to its suffering, does time visit it?
To the meditative mind, being still and doing nothing indeed are two very different things. When we are idle, the time that visits is a dumb passage, however, when we are still, the time that stops by is an experience full of meaning.
Time passes when the waves are still, it passes when the waves are tumultuous. What state does it assign this elusive concept then: is it still, or does it simply do nothing?
As I write, and try to put into words my perception of it, I find myself confounded over a thought: whether time is relative to motion and motion not to time, or the other way around the loop.
There is a sweet little dog that sits close to my house everyday. In the beginning, he used to sit there only for as much, such as it was simply a random stop during his journey that was constantly on the move, but with time, he became a regular visitor to our lives that are so stagnant, unlike his. I have never had the experience of a company that had such communicative eyes in his knowing silence, meaning I had never had a pet—he is as close as I have ever got to having one.
I started by handing out something to him to eat occasionally, when this ritual grew to the point that whenever any individual of our permanent residence returns from outside, and if he happens to encounter us on our way, he runs along the steps up to the entrance—with us or ahead of us—all the while expectantly wagging his tail, obviously anticipating nourishment for his empty stomach. I always wave to him, when he is there on my return from school, and insist on calling him “little doggie” whenever I do so. Even if it was simply because we had fed him sometimes, I always felt delighted at the sight of this insightful animal’s reflective eyes looking at me curiously, and particularly when he stuck his tongue out over his canines and wagged his tail endearingly. I call him little, even though I sense that he must be an old man in our world, by standards of the disciplinarian clock that marks the span of his doggy years, for he seems wise and knowing to me when he sits by those same steps on the afternoons, looking out onto the world continuing on with its daily commute. I felt honored whenever he gratefully ate the cookies or drank the milk I gave him, and disappointed when he did not. He is a traveller, and yet he let one of his roots tie itself to the barren ground of my world longing for meaning. When he continued to run along to us enthusiastically, it was always gladdening that he did.
In these terms I think, it is truly the animals that know time’s deepest secrets. For the joy for wonderment that is at the heart of this unassuming dog, a joy that does not age even if times wrinkles his being: why they are so readily able to defy the overpowering gravity of time, is evidence to the knowing look in their communicative silence that they have unraveled the mysterious equations that govern its workings. Shouldn’t my gracious visitor be hoarding something behind the dark pools of his eyes?
I look at the empty spot where he sat minutes ago, highlighted by a cylindrical shaft of sunlight.
It has been an underlying theme in much of the paintings that I have amateurishly tried to create, this distant observation of the landscape exposing all its beauty to the curious eye of the dark figure watching from among the haven of shadows. Deep down perhaps, we all have this intrinsic wonderment for the elusive concept of time. Like the ‘blue of distance’ that is our longing for the faraway, and finding beauty in the faraway, that Solnit wrote so captivatingly about, we chase after it in the shimmering fascination of the shops, cafes and restaurants flashing dazzling luminescence at night as we watch from the distance, hung aloof, knowing that the separation between this enigma and us is a distant contingency from being easily traversed, our gravity holding nothing over time’s mightier one.
The more willing of us then, surrender to quietly listening.