Once when I was a child, my grandfather asked me if I would rather have a watch that had stopped, or one which was twelve minutes too late?
“Oh, stop being silly grandpa! Of course I would rather have one which was twelve minutes late than one which had stopped!”
“I would chose the one that had stopped” my grandfather said, “that way I would know that it was right, at least two times a day!”
There is a school here in my neighborhood in Ubud, and it has a watch facing the road, and the watch has stopped at 7.55.
I bike by that school most days, on my way to yoga, or grocery shopping, and every time I look at the watch it shows 7.55. or could be 19.55.
It is something reassuring with that stopped watch, even if I think I am running late to class or biking by in the beaming afternoon sun , it tells me to slow down, it’s still just 7.55. No matter what circumstances, the watch tells me it’s 7.55, like a gentle reminder to breath, and forget about time and space for a moment, cause time matters very little to a watch which constantly shows 7.55.
When I lived in Rio de Janeiro, and taught English in a language school during the day, private English classes at night, and private Swedish classes in the weekends, and taught capoeira to children twice a week, and worked on my research project about the social and economic impacts of the World Cup and the Olympic Games, and tried to maintain my own capoeira practice, then I felt like I had been given that watch that my grandfather talked about many years earlier, the one that was constantly twelve minutes late! Running from one class to the next, from one side of town to the other, buses and tubes to get there on time, and if one class was delayed or one student late, it would affect the schedule for the whole day, and I would be constantly a little bit late, or on the verge of being late, arriving with the breathe in my throat and something wild in the eyes (after attempts of NOT getting stressed by the afternoon traffic in Rio de Janeiro) and desperately trying to concentrate on the research when I eventually came home late at night, or trying hard to pay attention to the instructions by my capoeira teacher at the night class even though my head would be spinning of English conjunctions, Swedish pro-noun and what I needed to prepare for the following days classes.
I believe very many people, too many, recognize themselves in the description of a daily schedule which is actually a little too tight to be able to complete without stressful transitions, going from kinder garden to work – in traffic! Getting out of the office in time for the Pilates class in the evening (where one can actually RELAX for a bit!!) and then catch the supermarket before it closes for the evening, or taking the dog for a walk in the morning, before being in the office at 7 am to not get caught in the morning traffic jam, or get the work done AND get out of the office in time to pick up the laundry before they close etc.
When you have days like that, or weeks, or live your life like that, perhaps it would be reassuring to accept the offer of my grandfathers second watch, the one that had stopped. That way, knowing that it does not matter exactly what time it is, all you know is that twice a day that watch will show the right time. And for your self, perhaps it does not matter so much, exactly what time it is, as long as it all get done by the end of the day?
Radical thought in the society we live in today, though perhaps the general health would be better if all had watches that had stopped, and like the watch in the school here in my neighborhood, reassure us not to worry, sooner or later the time will be 7.55 and 19.55, and in between and after, it does not really matter exactly what time it is..?
This week I got to experience what it is like if you do not know what time it is, and when it does not matter either! This week it was New Year here in Bali, which is celebrated with Nyepi, or the “Day of Silence”. That day, no one is allowed to leave their house, or make any noise, not even speak, neither turn the light on. It is the last day of the Balinese calendar and as such the silence and prohibition of any sorts of activity are due to two reasons; on the last day of the year the bad, evil spirits are scouting all over Bali for people and places to inhabit, so all people must maintain inside in silence so that the spirits will not find anyone but leave the island again. The more spiritual explanation to the Day of Silence is for it to be a day of contemplation of the year that has been, a day to reflect on the past year as a preparation for the new year to come. As a result, all activities, work and entertainment is prohibited. One is encouraged to fast and remain inside the house in silence.
As a new-comer to Bali, I think it is a beautiful idea and practice, to contemplate the past year in silence, as a preparation for the new year to commence. A time to stop, reflect and digest, before you through yourself into a new year! And I did NOT want to be the One that those evil spirits would find!!
So I spent the whole day in the house, didn’t completely fast but only had one meal that day during the day and remained in silence, apart from one, involuntarily conversation.. Since there are no lights on at all, in the whole of Bali, you can imagine what the sky looks like at night! So incredible many stars and satellites that were visible! I was sitting silently in the garden watching the stars, when my flatmate came out and joined me in the grass. Without saying a word he laid down in the grass next to me watching the stars, and I did the same and laid down too. We were watching the incredible star-sky without saying a word to each other when I suddenly SCREAMED and JUMPED UP!!!
“It BIT me!!”
I do not know what it was, but it felt like a crab had grabbed my big toe! Obliviously could not have been a crab, maybe a giant ant? or one of the evil spirits scouting for people to attack..!?
What ever it was it, grabbed my toe and I could not but to laugh at my reaction and scream!
“I am so sorry! Moment spoiler!!” and laughed even more, since we were meant to stay in complete silence.
Apart from that, I remained in silence, and I did not turn my computer on and I put my phone away to not be distracted by anything, but to honor the day of contemplation.
As a result of that, I had no way to know what time it was, as supposed to watch the sun.. I know the sun set around 6pm and it gets dark around 7pm, so when it was dark I knew it was 7pm, but what time I went to bed? I have no idea. And what time I had lunch, or how long I sat watching those stars? I have no idea. And the beautiful thing is that, it does not matter either..
Of course, in our society it would be very difficult, if not to say impossible to maintain a practice whereby we all had stopped watches or followed the sun as the only guidance for time keeping. Thus, once and a while, like Nyepi gave me the opportunity, it is a beautiful and powerful practice to stop for a day, contemplate and realize how much of the concept of time is in our mind, and what it does to us and how it makes our bodies and minds feel when we are slave to the watch and the silent ticking of the minutes.
Perhaps my grandfather, who was a farmer and thereby had another vision of time and it’s importance, of a probably more long term scale than an English-Swedish-capoeira-teacher- researcher in Rio de Janeior, had.
What, at the time seemed like a joke to me, as the child I was, currently seem to have actually been a sharing of his wisdom that he had learnt along his life.
Every time I pass that school with the stopped watch here in my neighborhood I send my grandfather a thought up in heaven. It took some time, though, eventually I can see the lesson he taught me 30 years ago, and it was not a silly joke, it was a glimmer of life wisdom.. Rather have a watch which is on time two times a day, then be constantly chasing around twelve minutes too late..
Happy new year everyone and may the new Saka year be full of wisdom, joy, challenges and lessons learnt, and time in between to reflect and digest!