Thursday, April 7, 2022

Halfway to the Waterhole

I once heard a story about a museum in Australia that was displaying Aboriginal Art Work. 

Learning that in Aboriginal culture, a piece of visual art was a story, a map, directions for a choreography walking “the songlines,” they invited the artists to perform their dance for the Exhibit Opening. But being Westerners, everything was organized according to a schedule and each event on the schedule had a time limit. Five minutes for this speaker, two minutes for that one, ten minutes for the dance, etc. 


As the dancers began dancing the painting, all was well until the ten minutes projected time limit had expired and the dancers showed no signs of stopping. The museum officials got increasingly nervous and uptight, thinking “It’s running over schedule!” until finally, fifteen minutes in, one of them got up and said to the lead dancer, “I'm sorry, but the time’s up. You have to stop.” The dancer looked back incredulously and exclaimed, “Stop? But we're only halfway to the waterhole!!”


And there you have it. Life run by ticking clocks and life run by Spirit time, when something is over when it’s over. My grandson Malik, at 6 years old, has been craving a watch and this last visit, we bought him one and he became the group timekeeper. It’s charming and cute, but with this story in mind, part of me thinks, “What have we done?”


I remember on one of the many memorable school camping trips a perfect day, when the teachers and kids went from one activity to another entirely based on when it felt time for each. We checked in with each other after hiking a while— “Good time for a rest?” Hiked some more. “Are we feeling hungry?” Lolling around post-lunch digesting and then, “Ready for a softball game?” Played for a while and then the group agreement, “I think one more inning is enough. It’s getting hot— let’s go down to the creek after that.” And then after some time at the creek, “Feels like time to return to camp.” It was such a rare day, when the rhythms of our bodies and our attention spans and our needs dictated the timing rather than the tick-tick-ticking of the watch.


This is on my mind as I prepare for my retirement party this Saturday. 45 years of service and I’m granted 45 minutes to publicly reflect and share that experience. So I’m putting together the slide show and trying out 2 seconds per slide instead of 3, but feeling it’s not the right rhythm. I’m sitting with a stopwatch timing my speech and wondering if I have to rush through sentences that deserve some space between them. I'm timing my little solo piano piece and wondering if I need to increase the tempo. The event is supposed to end at 4:00 pm and I’m the last in the three hour event (two other teachers honored before me). What should feel like Spirit time away from the clock, following the contours of the moment's artistic and ceremonial need,  has me already uptight if —God forbid!— things start to run late and I have to stop before I reach the waterhole.


Believe me, I understand the value of time limits and have gotten much, much better at honoring them. But for this particular occasion, I would wish us to lean toward the Aboriginal perspective and let me get all the way to those cool, refreshing waters. Wish me luck!


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