Jeff Zittrain

A Matter of Time

“It’s just a matter o’ time…”
“War is over! If you want it. Happy Christmas from John and Yoko”

“So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun…
War is over, if you want it,
War is over now”

John Lennon, 1971

It’s real hard not to have that John Lennon Auld-Lang-Syne-for-Progressives melody in my head this time of year. Yes, it’s the time when the calendar spins, the ball drops and we mark the abstract passing of time in a concrete way. 

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Pete Townshend found spiritual fulfillment in the idea on his first solo album “Who Came First”:

“Don’t listen to people talk
Don’t listen to them selling souls
Don’t listen to me or words from men above
Don’t hear it in your needs and don’t hear it in your grieves
Just hear it in the sound of time a’ passing”

And Bob Weir, his present big grey Santa beard notwithstanding, back on HIS first solo album “Ace”, saw the whole “time” phenomenon as an illusion:

“You got to deep-six your wristwatch
You got to try to understand
The time it seems to capture
Is just the movement of its hands”

Bob Weir, beside himself with the passage of time

Whether revelling in the passage of time or transcending it, however, neither is an easy concept to maintain. Remember, a few short years before penning “Time is Passing”, Townshend made himself famous by declaring, anthemically, “Hope I die before I get old”. 

(And he continued to wrestle with his own aging in songs like “Young Man Blues” (I know it’s a cover but listen to what he says about it on the Isle of Wight DVD), “Slit Skirts”, the entire albums of “Quadrophenia” and “Who By Numbers”, and…well, actually, now that I think about it, can you name any Who or PT albums that don’t confront the issue?)

(Just goes to show it’s always just…a matter of time…)

Despite his hopes of the other way around, Pete gettin’ old before he dies…

In fact, so much of rock and “the jam” and spirituality itself is about experiencing the present moment, the “ever-expanding NOW” as Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters put it. But this doesn’t negate reflection. Deep reflection may help to appreciate the moment in context. And context can help to deepen our experience.

Still, there was an intriguing article in the NY Times this week about New Year’s reflections, written by psychology professor Timothy Wilson. It’s called “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”, which should be enough to get any self-respecting Dylan fan to read it. The general thrust was that introspection can actually be counterproductive. In three separate studies Wilson found that:

Analyzing a relationship can be less helpful than following “gut” feelings, debriefing after a trauma can actually disrupt the healing process, and, maybe most importantly, navel-gazing while depressed is a big no-no. Conversely, getting out of your head and into the world was helpful. He explains: “Numerous social psychological studies have confirmed Aristotle’s observation that “We become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlled by exercising self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courage.”

Sounds suspiciously like…

“Spiritual Traditions for 100, Alex… (What is) Right (flippin’) Action!”

In other words, Right Action can not only save the world, it can save you. (I knew there was a reason it’s batting cleanup on the Eightfold Path to Enlightenment…)

However, don’t take this and run too far, mes amigos  – you’ve got to introspect enough to be aware of your action  – remember, there’s 6 other folds to the path, including right thought, right understanding and right mindfulness

Once again, I suppose, we try to find a balance. Wilson concludes: “The trick is to go out of our way to be kind to others without thinking too much about why we’re doing it. As a bonus, our kindnesses will make us happier.”Which sounds like John Lennon again to me. He balanced lots of thinking (his most popular solo song being “Imagine”) with lots of real-world action. And this helps me to balance out this column, since I can now bookend it with another one of his nuggets o’inspiration, which predates Wilson’s conclusion, and it also lets you sing along:

“Instant Karma’s gonna get you,
Gonna knock you off your feet, 
Better recognize your brothers,
Ev’ryone you meet, 
Why in the world are we here,
Surely not to live in pain and fear, 
Why on earth are you there,
When you’re ev’rywhere,
Come and get your share.”

Let’s try to all shine on in the New Year…

…even when you feel like a crazy diamond…

“…On and on and on and on…”
Instant Karma, 1970