How to Live Beyond Time

A rooftop in Seoul with a cityscape and mountains in the distance. It's sunset, with purple clouds and a yellow horizon.

The coffeeshops in this new neighborhood are full of students knee-deep into the fall semester. I peak at the textbooks the couple next to me are studying: calculus. The guy to my right, programming. The girls across the way are discussing grammar in Korean, English and Spanish, cycling though the languages every few sentences.

I’m south of the Han now, close to one of the major universities in Seoul. The energy of the cafes these days crackles with excitement- not yet the frantic stress of the weeks approaching midterms. Me, though? I’m sinking deep into the dreamtime of fall, contemplating October’s mysteries, missing the deep reds and oranges of the woods of my New England hometown, thinking about how I’ll be spending Samhain on a plane instead of calling on dangerous restless spirits- or at least engaged in masked shenanigans 😉

In a book I’m reading (I’ll keep the book a secret since I’m giving away a spoiler), twenty years pass suddenly and I’m angry that I’m expected to just accept such a large passage of time slipping away before the characters are able to act once again on behalf of what they love and believe in. But then if I look back on twenty years ago, it feels as if no time has passed at all, and I’m still a fourteen-year old, just beginning high school. There are certainly things I’ve dropped for twenty years- martial arts is one of them.

And the richness of the fabric of time just astounds me these days- how real memories feel, textured and complex and full. But the future- which is not even real!- feels just as much so to me. I confess I’m a schemer and a dreamer, and I’m guilty of spending a great deal of time unnecessarily plotting my next steps, searching like a lost soul for my destiny.

Here are some thoughts, therefore, on time and its meaning:

-My dorm-style accommodations give me access to a rooftop, so I’ve been going up morning and night to practice taekwondo. A week into this habit, I remembered a story I wrote as a twelve-year old, about a warrioress protecting her best friend, who was a princess. In one scene, she practices on the castle roof in the moonlight. And I remember thinking, that would be the epitome of cool, to spend your days on a rooftop practicing martial arts. Ha! And here I am.

-Putting aside comments that could be made about my definitions of cool, this memory brings up another thought- the idea of how we age mentally. Some of us are natural 50-year olds; others never seem to leave high school. Am I mentally a twelve-year old? When I posed this question to my coworker, she said, “Well, moving to China to study kung-fu is something a twelve-year old would do.” She herself is probably mentally somewhere in her twenties, still clubbing and staying out all night (I seem to have missed that stage altogether- except of course, on Halloween :P). I think in her heart, she’s still a DJ, something she set aside to have a more practical job.

Why is it that we drop ourselves, sometimes, when we age? We’re not allowed to dream crazy dreams once we turn 14, as in my case, or 35, as in hers. How can we get good at recognizing this when it’s happening, so we can do something about it?

-A similar idea to mental age- I’ve heard it considered in terms of seasons– there are Spring people, who flower most beautifully in their youth, and later on tend to look back with great nostalgia, feeling those were the best years of their lives. Then there are Summer people, who blossom in their twenties and thirties, working hard with great energy and enthusiasm, strong of body and mind. And then there are Autumn people, who are shy in their youth and take time to come into their confidence, or pull their energies together into accomplishments and develop strength of character.

What about winter? There was no description of winter people, in the book that I read (sadly, I no longer remember the book where I heard this idea)- perhaps they were the wise elders, a role tragically lost these days. Perhaps they were always rare, since people for so long, didn’t live past “autumn.” But I like to think there are winter people. They’re the people who share a closeness or a kinship with death. Perhaps they lost someone beloved early in life, and so for them, death is real- death informs their every move, reminds them often of its presence- never far, unforgettable.

These Winter people, they have an extra pair of eyes, always seeing the end of things. They remember the preciousness of each breath, the suddenness with which everything can be taken away. They remember: we own nothing, in this life. It’s all borrowed.

-Bringing that back to my dilemma, where the past and future are so alive- my task, then, must be to be here, in the present, and use the present to create the future that I daydream about so much. Use the present to honor the past I was gifted: both horrors and triumphs, pain and beauty. In this way I can pull the aliveness of both the past and the future into this moment- ground them in the here and now, express their realness not with daydreams but with action.


 

Friends, what are your thoughts on these ideas? On time and timelessness, on the realness of the future and the past, on pulling them into the present? Do any of you relate to the idea of mentally or spiritually being a different age? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below 🙂

The Experience of Forgiveness

I used to be very anti-television, especially in the days when my loved ones seemed to consume it mindlessly and continuously. I was one of countless children, I’m sure, who grew up with the TV constantly blaring news and violent dramas.

These days I’m not so triggered or judgmental. We crave experience. Our subconscious doesn’t know that it’s not really having an experience, when watching TV. And isn’t it? Though it’s not our body, though it’s not our story- even our bodies get tricked, even our muscles fire off the corresponding neurons, if that’s what our brain is imagining.

I recently heard of a technique you can use to release anger and resentment, especially towards people who have wronged you. Write a letter to yourself, from that person. Write everything you wish they would say to you. It plays upon the same idea- your subconscious doesn’t know it’s not real. Because you tap into the deeply rooted volatile emotions that live under the conscious mind, and provide release for them through the writing of that letter. So the subconscious renders it as an experience.

We all have at least a few people from whom a letter of apology- full, heartfelt, saying everything that needed to be said- would be beneficial, useful to our psychological health, to receive. I can think of three right off the bat. I’m curious at my own behavior though- this kind of exercise, I would normally dive into- why do I hesitate?

When we are given the opportunity to forgive (even if it’s just a psychological trick), why not take it, unless the anger we hold has some use to us? Often, our identity crystallizes around our pain. To give up our pain is to give up our identity. Or perhaps we use the rage as fuel for great accomplishments. What happens to the accomplishments, if we let that rage go? What happens to future accomplishments?

Perhaps, for my part, I’m just too busy. I’ve been working overtime for six months. I can’t give it my attention. I can’t relax long enough around the exercise to give it true power. I can’t stop the treadmill- maybe I don’t want to stop the treadmill- long enough for this. And yes, my accomplishments this past year are absolutely fed by rage.

Or maybe it’s that I secretly believe that one letter of forgiveness- however long, however deep- wouldn’t be enough?

The thing about forgiveness is it never ends. I’ve forgiven a great number of things, a number of people- and I’ve been forgiven, as well. But more people come along who offend, who hurt, who lie, who betray. So the process must begin again and again. And I will hurt others as well- in my flailing, in my clumsiness, in my anger, my short-sightedness, my selfishness, my laziness- in all the usual human ways.

When we realize we need forgiveness, too, the game changes. And we see that forgiveness must be a lifelong companion- we must regularly pay tribute. So we must be willing to engage, to process, to call a truce here and there, to negotiate. To redraw battle lines. To give up that old territory while we claim other territory in new ways of living, growing like some wild thorny juicy brier.

Love,

Laurie

 

If Everything Were Different…

What makes you unique? What are the things that make you different from everyone else? What are the things you love to do, that you squirrel away time and money for, that make the hours pass fully unnoticed? That pull you into a beautiful cloud of timelessness? What makes you you, different not in opposition but just in your pure uniqueness, at the fingerprint level, at the cellular level? What things move you, what things drive you to obsession, what things wake you up out of your slumber, cause you to sit upright, straight as cat, and listen and watch everything around you, eyes and ears new to the world?

The things that whirl inside of us, the stories waiting to be told, they need to be told. I didn’t think this for a long time- who can benefit from my stories, who cares? What can I possibly contribute to the cacophony of voices? But the truth is, we are trapped, we need new ways of living, new paradigms. How do we grow out of our moulds? We need to see other ways of living.

The more my way of life becomes unique- the more it becomes me-shaped, true to myself, the more I feel obligated to share my stories with others. Because there must be others out there like me, trying to find a way. If it weren’t for others telling me their stories, I’d have no idea I could live a different way. I’d still be stuck in the traps that I had lived in before.

It’s a sense of obligation, it’s a matter of conscience, that I tell my stories. If I can help anyone the way I was helped, just by hearing and reading other’s stories, learning of other ways to live- then that’s worth more to me than anything. It might be the highest purpose I can fulfill.

You can live a different way. It starts with asking yourself, what makes me different from everyone else, if I were stripped down to my very bones, if everything were different, what would have to remain the same? 

Then follow that thought until it becomes a path, and follow that path until you fear for you life, and then follow it more. Never stop following it, let it swallow you. And then you’ll come to the clearing.

How to Show Up to Your Life

Show up sleepless, with the waking thoughts still in your eyes. Coffee in one hand, outdated beliefs in the other. Show up with your scars and your trophies, your playlist, your tea and scone, clutch and tumbler. Bring your crazy dreams to this war. Bring your rage and your gunpowder. Bring your apologies, half-hearted and otherwise.

Bring the smile from that guy on the bus, the gust of fresh air, the sudden showers, cicadas in the afternoon, crickets in the evening. Bring your cramps and your bleeding, bring candy or alcohol to bribe your underlings for their cooperation. Wear your mother’s brooch, or not- show up clothed, show up naked. Show up ornate, show up unadorned.

Show up lost, show up utterly, completely, dizzyingly, hopelessly lost- show up hopeless, show up happy, show up at the very end. Show up just in the nick of time, show up too late. Show up, fat parts, ugly parts. Show up still reeling from your break-up. Terminally in love. Wishing you hadn’t said the things you said. Show up still missing him, even after all these years. Show up breaking the rules. Obeying the rules. Enforcing the rules.

Think of the graveyard you walk through every day to get here. Don’t do it for you. Do it for them. And then do it for you, when no one’s looking. Show up despite the work piled up on the desk, despite your unwashed hair, despite your heart’s so shattered, shards of it stab your lungs and you can’t breathe. Show up, though it feels like you’re drowning- it will be your beginning.

Show up, always. Show up to what is and what could be-

and everything under the sky

will show itself to be

worthy.