I have never really liked New Year’s Eve. Never felt entirely comfortable with it. I began to wonder why.
I mean, I like the chance to party. To dress up. Meet people. Chat. Socialize. Catch up. Eat. Drink. Dance. Celebrate. All good.
So, the party is swinging. I am having a fine time. But then, as midnight approaches, the rules begin to kick in:
Turn down the music. (but I love that track…)
Get ready for the bells. (I don’t care about the bells…)
Charge your glasses. (I don’t want a drink now – I want to dance ….)
Wait for it. (I am. I’m waiting to dance.)
Bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong.
Now sing. (but I don’t know the words. Nobody knows the words.)
Link arms and sway awkwardly. (I’d prefer to dance.)
Hug your neighbour. (I hate the cow.)
Give everybody a kiss. (now, you are pushing it.)
Smile! (Fuck Off!)
I exaggerate for effect. But not much. I just don’t like being told exactly when and how I should enjoy myself. The notion that, at the strike of midnight, the entire nation will magically be filled with bonhomie and love for their fellow Man seems to me to be false and a little bit desperate. Should I be filled with love for another human being, I want to express it spontaneously and authentically. Not to the sound of a bell, like some Pavlov’s dog.
But, it’s not just my natural antipathy towards authority. Or my distaste for any unexamined herd mentality. It goes deeper than that. It is to do with how we conceive of TIME.
The dominant view of Time in our culture is linear. There is a start, middle and end. It is a journey. This is the Christian perspective. Genesis to Armageddon. Alpha to Omega. It is so dominant that it permeates all aspects of our lives. We think of our lives proceeding in a linear fashion from birth to child to adult to old age to death and maybe to an afterlife. Our medical profession seeks to lengthen the course of this linear journey. To keep the end at bay for as long as possible. We live in houses which we pay for with a mortgage which is a scheme of repayment over the course of a lifetime – a very linear transaction. To finance the mortgage we have to hold down a job for the length of the repayment. We work towards retirement – an end goal where we have paid off the mortgage, we receive the benefits of a pension plan that we have paid into all our working lives. It is all very linear. All based on the notion of steady progress towards an end point. The prize. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
New Year fits firmly into the linear time world view. You start the year on 1st January and you work towards 12 o clock midnight on 31st December. So, all that hugging and kissing and bells and balls is a celebration of reaching the finish line this year. And there’s a notion of getting a fresh start. Clean slate. Another go. So, we have our resolutions. Targets that we will set ourselves and attempt to reach. Within the allotted time scale. Twelve months. 365 days. All very linear.
Trouble is. It all feels. To me. A bit artificial. Contrived. Unreal. Imposed.
It is all based on calendar time. Which is made up time. Made up by humans. Time carved up into convenient chunks. By Man.
I can understand day and night. The sun rises and sets. A day has passed. There has been sun (hopefully) and light and warm. It’s been quite pleasant and we’ve been able to get some things done that needed doing. Then it’s different. Something else happens. It gets dark and colder and you can’t get much done so best have a sleep. Night. Makes sense on an experiential level.
But where do weeks come from? I mean a Sunday is no different from a Monday in terms of the progress of the sun/light and dark/day and night.
The days of the week come from Mankind. Relatively modern Mankind. They are a construct. Constructed I suspect by mangers to organise their workers. Monday to Friday you work. You work towards the weekend. Then you can have a couple of days rest. Very linear.
Seasons I can get my head around. Winter is different to Summer. Autumn to Spring. But they are relatively fluid concepts. They are not a set length. Some years Winters are long. Others short. Seasons are allowed to change and flux.
Months are set in stone. Immovable. Inflexible. So that we can arrange our lives around them. Tax years. Financial years. School years. School holidays. Bank holidays. Time held in a vice like grip.
Contrast this to societies where most people are subsistence farmers. Working for themselves. To feed themselves and their families. In these societies, Time tends to remain more fluid. Work is done when it needs to be done. When the conditions are right. Crops are sown. Crops are harvested. When there is light. Not when the bell rings. Not when the market demands. Life is tough. Work is hard. But there tends to be more Time. Time to rest. Spend with the family. Socialise. Because Time is not constrained, carved up, deadened. Time moves and is alive. Open to change.
Time in our society is so dominated by work. When you retire, Time changes. Week ends are no longer the goal. Days become indistinguishable. At first, it’s disconcerting, tied as we are to linear time. Eventually, the freedom from linear Time is liberating. You can allow yourself to fall into a more natural rhythm. In Winter, as the days grow shorter, you sleep longer. Store up energy for the Spring when the light returns. When I was working as a teacher, I hated having to get up and go to work in the dark during Winter. Come home in the dark. Never see the light. I used to hate Winter. Now that I can spend the daylight hours outside, I see how beautiful Winter is. As are all the seasons. They all have their own beauty. Their own Time. I feel that I am very lucky to live here in the UK where we have distinct seasons. Where the passage of Time is marked very clearly. By the length of days. The colour of leaves. The fall of fruit.
I have lived in other countries where the days are the same length every day, where only the monsoon differentiates the seasons. I loved being in those places. But I learned that I love our seasons more. Their rhythm taps away somewhere deep inside me. I need them. And the thing about the seasons is that they bestow upon those that pay attention, a different understanding of Time. Not as linear but as cyclic. Winter will come but winter will go. Spring will come once more. Only to fade in turn. But it will return. The cycle will continue. And knowing that. Knowing that in your very bones. Is priceless. Knowing that Time is cyclic. That everything has its time. Rise and fall. Knowing that gives a deep sense of security and peace.
Linear Time piles on the pressure. Makes us jumpy. Stressed. So little time, so much to be done.
Cyclic Time takes the pressure off. Relax. All things in their time. Time will come around. And around. It’s not about a race to the finish. There is no finish. When we die, our bodies rot into the earth. Where a seed will drop. A plant will grow. So it goes on.
I think that too much of our world is now ruled by Linear Time. It is making us miserable. It sucks the life out of us. Treats us like machines. We are letting it rule our lives. We could all benefit from remembering that Linear Time is just an illusion. We made it up. In some ways it is useful. But it isn’t real. And, often, it is more useful to view Time as Cyclic. It isn’t something that you can use up or waste. It is just there. A pattern to give structure to our lives. A framework on which to hang our experience.
So, at New Year’s Eve, I will happily partake of the festivities. Revel in the company. Dance. Enjoy the moment. Present Time. But don’t expect me to make any resolutions. And forgive me if I disappear at midnight. I am just avoiding the celebration of Linear Time. I feel happier in Cyclic Time.
Solstice celebrates Cyclic Time.
Christmas celebrates Present Time.
New Year celebrates Linear Time.
I walk with the dog up Windmill Hill. It is fresh and cold. Winter. I am wrapped up against the chill. Scarf, hat, gloves, big coat. It is beautiful. I remember being up here last Summer. In shorts, sandals, t-shirt. That seems utterly inconceivable now. It cannot be the same place. How can the experiences of being on one hill be so different? Yet, despite this felt chasm, with the wind numbing my cheek, I know Summer will come again.