Sunday, July 15, 2012

Oil on Canvas, Bushfire, Roslyn Ross, 2011.

We disappear in timeless worlds
when we do least expect,
reminding us that minutes tick,
because we say they do.
Delight can drive its way through time,
and pain can hold it close,
and time can feel both fast and slow,
though it does not exist.

They say time goes faster and more slowly depending upon what we are doing and how we are feeling and there are both scientific and spiritual teachings which would say that time is an illusion - a reality we create to better function in this world but not a reality in itself.

I remember reading the book by Oliver Sacks, many years ago, called Awakenings, describing his experiences with L-Dopa (sleeping sickness) patients. In 1966 Sacks began working with a group of patients, many of whom had spent decades unable to move or speak due to the devastating effects of the 1920's encephalitis lethargica. He tried them on a then new Parkinson's drug, L-dopa, with amazing results. In essence they 'returned to function' although sadly, the vast majority returned to their frozen state after the negative effects of the drug began to outweigh the benefits.

But the incident which had a profound effect on me was where Sacks told of a patient whom he would pass, numerous times a day, and see moving his hand from his lap to scratch his face, impossibly slowly, over the space of countless hours. When the patient returned and could communicate, Sacks asked him about this and he said that for him, the movement did not take hours, but seconds, just as it would in our world.
I actually found it comforting to think that despite their frozen state, how we saw their world was not in essence how they experienced it and perhaps, that too was the case for coma patients who lie imprisoned for days, weeks, months or years.

But my personal experience of being in a timeless world involved car accidents or near-car accidents. Time literally stopped, of that I had no doubt. In one instance I was driving on a busy freeway with my children then aged six and seven, and a truck in front of me lost a piece of timber which came flying off, heading for my car. I remember thinking clearly that I had to work out where to let this timber hit the car so that it did not hit me and cause an immediate crash, it did not hit the centre of the windscreen and possibly crash through to where my children were in the back and that meant I had to slightly swerve the car so that it hit the left-hand pillar, not the glass, where little damage would be done and I could continue to drive the car.

 And that is what I did and that is what happened. In that instant involving mere seconds when the long piece of timber flew off and hit our car, I had carefully, calmly and slowly thought about what to do. Since that time I have had the same experience on a number of occasions - always involving crisis and danger and always allowing calm, considered, slow and careful assessment which felt like minutes but was in fact barely seconds.

There is no doubt that time is not all that it seems, if indeed, it exists at all in the ways in which we believe.


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