For more than a decade, I have been unable to wear a watch. I don’t know why. I just know that every watch I buy stops working shortly after I start wearing it.
Like many people these days, my cell phone is my new wrist watch. As I write this, I can glance at the top right corner of my screen, and there’s the time. Across the room there’s a small Timex sitting on top of the DVR. There’s a clock on the microwave, one on the stove, one on the coffee maker, and a bright red Coca-Cola clock on the wall over the sink.
Even though I can’t wear a watch, I have no shortage of options for answering the question, “What time is it?”
I’ve been thinking today about the classic passage from Ecclesiastes about time, the one made famous by Pete Seeger’s song, Turn! Turn! Turn!
For everything there is a season,
a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant,
and a time to uproot what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down,
and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones,
and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
I’ve been thinking about how we decide what to do, what to say, what to think. In other words, “What time is it?” Is it time to do this––or that? And how do we decide?
For me, I’m an off-the-charts intuitive type. My mind constantly scans the world around me, seeking information. It’s not a conscious, deliberate accumulation of facts. It just happens. It’s like there’s a speedy little robot running around gathering up information and throwing it into a giant bin at the back of my brain. And there’s another busy little robot constantly rummaging around in the bin, keeping track of what’s in there. When I need information, the second robot shows up with a handful of disparate clues that somehow make sense together.
Sometimes I think that a big part of life is figuring out how to live with the mind our genes and life experience have given us.
For me, this two-robot system works well in many ways. It’s an integral part of my creative process (and not just in writing). But it does have its drawbacks. The robots have no interest in mundane things like driving, for example. And sometimes the librarian robot is just plain wrong.
I’m learning to temper my intuitive instinct, to remember that intuition is a guess, not a fact. I try to remember to say, “This is what I see happening here. Are you experiencing it the same way?” When the stakes are high, I check in with trusted friends and mentors before speaking or acting, particularly when the robot shows up with a really big stack of “facts,” insisting that they are not only true, but also really, really important.
Sometimes they’re true, sometimes they’re important. And sometimes they’re not.
And that’s part of learning how to tell time. How to know what to do, what to say, what to think.
Many of us, and not just the intuitives, live with the robots in control. If we want to figure out right action and right speech in a given situation, we’ve got to wrest control out of the robots’ hands. We have to know how our minds work (and that includes our emotions), before we can choose the right path.
So how does your mind work? What kind of robots do you have? How do you decide what to say and what to do? How do you answer the question, “What time is it?”
Photo by JDHancock, used under a Creative Commons license.