I am fascinated with how time changes things. Because, when I really look at myself and others, I am not sure that much else does. Change things, I mean. Particularly, change people.
I recently got together with two women I’d met thirty years ago in a group for new mothers. The three of us had not been together for decades. As we sat around a table discussing our “children” (now in their late twenties and early thirties) I was struck by how little any of us had changed. (Well, if I am being completely truthful, I was amazed at how little they had changed- but I know what that has to mean re: me.) Our conversation followed a rhythm that I recognized from years before, and the positions and perspectives we each offered to the discussion was very much as I remember them being way back when.
My dear friend Joan Borysenko and I got together for tea recently, and after we caught up on each other’s lives, I raised the question: Do people really change? As we turned our inquiry inward we both felt that we had changed, albeit in relative ways. We could see how we were less judgemental, more relaxed, less likely to worry, less anxious (and more able to tolerate the anxiety that is part of a human life) than we were ten, twenty or thirty years ago. But, as Joan pointed out, these changes felt more like part of a natural maturing process- ie: consequences of the passage of time- than a result of conscious attempts to change.
Now it’s interesting that two women who some would see as being in the “business” of creating change would be having this conversation. After all, we each write, do public speaking and facilitate workshops that focus on living life more fully and deeply- which implies creating a change from living at least a little less fully and less deeply. Neither of is inclined to believe in or promise quick fixes. But, on the other hand, we have both had profound experiences of Spirit and life that we are inclined to think have changed us, and we are both insatiably curious about how we and others find our way to living from the centre of being- which, once again, implies a change from living in at least a slightly-less-than centred place at least some of the time.
Which brings me back to time.
Because Joan is probably right- some of the changes we see in ourselves are a result of aging, which requires time, years in fact. But time alone won’t do it. I’ve met a some very aware individuals in their twenties and thirties (and some astonishing three year olds), and we all know folks who are as unconscious (in denial about addicted, self-destructive, lashing out in pain etc.) at 40 or 50 or 60 as they were at 20. (Those other people- not us, right!? Hmm. . . . . . )
What Joan pointed to is a process of not simply getting older, but of maturing- growing and deepening in ways that help us live closer to the centre of who and what we are. Not all the time. Not perfectly. Not in huge leaps and bounds. Just imperceptibly more than we did yesterday, and hopefully noticeably more than ten years ago. This requires both grace and an active willingness to learn from others, from life and from our own experience and mistakes.
I think one of the many faces of grace that allows us to change, is the magic of time. Oh I know, some maintain there is no time except in our thinking, but I can’t agree. Time, like all the other elements of living a physical and conditioned life, does have a level of reality to it. If the best before date on my milk is long past, the concept of time is useful. And yes, we can alleviate suffering by not reviewing old hurts endlessly or anticipating real or imagined troubles to come. But, the truth is, some things are handled simply by the grace of time- things that happen with or without my effort, sometimes when I am not even paying attention and sometimes with just a little willingness, with a timid or desperate prayer asking for help. It was time that made clear to me that I needed to leave my marriage, and I can see (as if catching a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye) how time is healing my heart and allowing me to open to life once again.
It’s always worthwhile to ask what we can do to learn, to heal, to change patterns within ourselves that we can see are causing suffering for ourselves or others. But it’s also important to know that we are not alone in this, that there are forces on our side, mysteries working with and within us. And one of those mysteries, an ally in healing, is surely time. We are conditioned beings who change with time. There is silver in my hair where once there was only gold. I forget names and nouns more than I once did, but I remember more frequently what matters most.
We are always living in the present moment, whether we are remembering the past or dreaming the future or bringing our full attention to this what is in this moment- to the click of my fingers on the keyboard and the mechanical roar of a leaf blower outside my window. But every present moment gives way to the next present moment . . . and the next.
We are embodied souls, and so, beings in time. And time is one of the faces of grace that can, particularly when and where we are willing, offer us the miracle of small changes that accumulate and slow openings that let us gently but completely unfold to become more of who and what we are.