Looking out to sea, a rare windless afternoon, the sun-dazzled eye hypnotized by patterns of light and dark on the vast expanse of water: shimmering, shifting, yet singular and unified, touching all land masses at once… What if time were not a river flowing one way only, but an ocean, simultaneously connecting all the places you are and are not, all the things that were, are, and will be? What if at every moment, in every place, all times exist somehow? What if human consciousness were once capable of evolving to access this simultaneity fully, as memory and trance do in their imperfect way? But then we lost the way, our evolution short-circuited by mechanical tools that extended our physical abilities and sensory range, but actually stunted consciousness.
Rationalism has had its chance and proven itself inadequate to an evolutionary task. It’s no longer the sleep of reason but its wakened exercise that produces monsters: the uncommon common sense of more “efficient” humans, more “productive” nature, more “profitable” time.
Before the tools took over, most humans participated in a collective effort do honor and obeisance to a dynamic whole, an uncreated and un-synthesizable unity to which they belonged. They thought of themselves as scholars and also guardians of a great harmony, their identity seemed clear, their purpose established. Meaning was guaranteed. How did it happen that the least sophisticated, most reductive and wrong-headed tribes in the world produced the forefathers of its absolute rulers today? Has human evolution been permanently forestalled?
While I am thinking this I am sitting on a hillside eating a salty, greasy bag of Chex Mix, which reminds me of my childhood, as does the sound of a distant buzz saw in the twee village of Muir Beach, perched on the rocky headland to the north. My husband is turning the cellphone on and off, and we reflect on whether or not it works out here. An empty cargo ship heads out to sea, to pick up more of China’s synthetic fabrics and plastic chairs (and cellphones), which most of those who make them will never get to use, and bring them back here.
But this mechanical incoherence is so thin; it’s patently illusory. Sun, sea, rock, sky: at last they are restored to their proper prominence, here on a weekday when most people have barricaded themselves indoors because they are trapped in an illusion that commands them to adhere to certain patterns, to follow other equally illusory and factitious orders, to pursue units of exchange without which they can, in real life, starve, so powerful is this illusion. With people reduced to numbers something like what there must have been 5,000 years ago in this place, nature surges to the fore. It feels utopian. The sun continues to pour out its vast bounty of light and warmth, the earth to bless us, every second of every day. But we shrug and turn away, phones pressed against our ears to drown out the sea, stereos blasting to silence the wind, computer screens glowing to diminish the sun and moon.
Still: time! I read a time travel fantasy that posits this idea: old time is always there all around us, layer upon layer, but we have to free our consciousness from the billions of material details that tie us to the present in order to see it, experience it. We have to reach into other layers of our understanding in order to swim in time like fish instead of being swept along on its surface like flotsam. I can begin to glimpse this possibility as memories rise up and a world surrounds me that, if only for an instant, completely intercedes between me and the present world.
We all could once, we can still. But it takes time to make time.