I keep a fossil on my desk at all times. Whenever I feel rushed or find myself creating a sense of urgency, I pick up the fossil and caress its polished surface. It's over 200 million years old. Suddenly, returning that phone call or meeting that self-imposed deadline doesn't seem nearly as critical. My ancient arthropod reminds me that, in the scheme of things, this moment is indescribably insignificant. I find that remarkably comforting.
True story: I brought the fossil with me as a sort of visual aid for a presentation I was giving on sustainability at Intel. As I opened the car door in the Intel parking lot, the fossil slipped out of my bag. It crashed to the pavement, the asphalt shattering the tip of my favorite piece of history. I'm trying hard to avoid seeing any deep meaning in that disturbing little incident.
Anyway, I've been stroking that poor broken fossil a lot this week. I'm not freaking out about anything. I've just been spending some time thinking about time.
Is life a function of time, or is time a function of life?
This is worth spending a considerable amount of time (or life?) contemplating. For those of you in a hurry, I've got this short sound bite answer: It depends on what kind of scope you're using.
My brother has worked for a nearby scope manufacturer for over twenty years, so my answer is colored by my familiarity with lenses and the way they magnify reality. You might come up with a response based on, say, your connection to compost. Or combustion engines. Or maybe blood cells. Me? I'm going with scopes.
I would say that time is a function of life whenever we are simply going through the motions of the day or looking at our accomplishments or failures over the course of our lives. We can divide periods of living into convenient packages--that wondrous year in Miss Green's first grade class, the bust-your-butt blur of college, the years in the old house on Birch Street, and on and on. You've got your own compartments.
We use time. It allows us to keep things organized, both in our day planners and in our minds. It's a helpful ordering mechanism.
It's hard to get a grip on the enormity of time when we view it in terms of appointments, lunch hours, and television time-slots. If we pull waaayyy back and look at it, then life becomes a function of time instead of the other way around.
We don't tend to pay attention to any of that while getting ready for work in the morning. We don't think much about Time with a capital T. That's because we're looking through the lens of the microscope. Well, haul out the telescope. Take a look at gigantic periods of Time. Consider unfathomable chunks of eternity.
We've been in the Cenozoic era for about 65 million years now. It started way back with the extinction of the last non-avian dinosaurs. The most recent Cenozoic period, the Quarternary, started a mere 1.8 million years ago, and has seen the development of humans from the very earliest use of tools and rudimentary language to the present flip-phone/camera/email devices that are all the rage today. That's quite a progression.
I'm thinking we've sort of maxed out the Cenozoic era. It has served us well in many ways, but frankly, it's getting a bit tired. Seeing as how humans were the ones to name the eras in the first place (that part is definitely time as a function of life), it's perfectly reasonable that humans should declare when the next one is starting. It's fairly arbitrary anyway. There's certainly some wiggle room--at least a couple hundred thousand years.
Can we start the new one now? Please?
Here's an idea--why not put a little thought into the next era? Instead of documenting the progress--or decline--of species, why not plug in a little intention and see where that takes us?
I wish I'd thought of that first, but I didn't. Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme coined the term "Ecozoic era" in The Universe Story, and then Berry went on to talk about what that might look like in his book, The Great Work. Berry describes the Ecozoic era as one holding the promise of humans living in a mutually enhancing relationship with all life forms.
This sounds pretty groovy, but it's not viewed as a Utopian concept. It's a viable proposition.
The first steps have been taken to build the foundation for a realistic movement toward this new era. The Center for Ecozoic Studies is at the forefront, but a number of scholars of all stripes are coming together to do some planning. There's not a gloom-and-doomer in the bunch. In fact, they are catapulted by hope and possibility. They take this work very seriously but embrace it joyously.
We should, too. We humans have come a long way from pounding rocks in a cave. We're perfectly capable of looking forward and envisioning an unprecedented era capitalizing on cooperation and awareness as guiding principles. We do it in the movies all the time. Why can't we do it for real?
I'd like to propose that we consider utilizing the concept that life is a function of time. Let's think about what it means to plan an era. Our cave ancestors couldn't imagine the world today. We have the advantage of the knowledge of history and a growing understanding of the forces that propel a planet through its evolutionary journey.
Like it or not, we've got a certain responsibility to use these fabulous frontal lobes. You don't have to be a scientist to think about the future of the Earth. You're human. Think about it because you CAN.
Look for fossil moments in your day to consider the universe, and grasp the opportunity to render yourself temporarily insignificant.
Just watch out for asphalt.
About The Author
Maya Talisman Frost is a mind masseuse. Her course, Massage Your Mind!: Defining Your Life Philosophy, has inspired thinkers in over 70 countries around the world. She publishes the Friday Mind Massage, a free weekly ezine serving up a satisfying blend of clarity, comfort and comic relief. For more information, visit http://www.massageyourmind.com or http://www.mindmasseuse.com.