What is Time?

Dave Pendle
8 min readNov 14, 2023

A spontaneous improvised koanistic reflection on Time

While I have never been to acting school or had any training in improvisation. I find it incredibly uplifting to free associate and explore, ideas, sentiments, hunches, intuitions and gut feelings, when focussed on seriously substantial topics. In the past I found the structure of the Glass Bead Game an incredible opportunity to give free rein, to the flow of my own consciousness. Enjoying the random and not so random, connections when exploring an idea, or series of ideas or specific topics.

I am always educating myself and am particularly interested where the frothy edges of culture and consciousness meet. I seek place spaces and opportunities, where I can uninhibitedly share, explore and develop, the most promising frontiers of my thinking/feeling through engaged dialogical exploration. One such radical hosting organisation place or space is Perspectiva . A seriously soulful think and do tank, an investigative body, a curator of contemporary ideas, movements, ecologies at the intersection of collapse or emergence and culture. They describe themselves as follows;

Perspectiva is a community of expert generalists working on an urgent one hundred year project to improve the relationships between systems, souls and society in theory and practice.

We are scholars, artists, activists, futurists and seekers who believe credible hope for the first truly planetary civilisation lies in forms of economic restraint and political cooperation that are beyond prevailing epistemic capacities and spiritual sensibilities.

An in depth exposition of Perspectiva’s 10 key premises have been made available here. Perspectiva also hosts numerous compelling cultural events, including the Emerge Festival in Berlin in 2021 in which I participated. But also this year, a series of very well attended, almost bi-weekly, two handed interviews, with polymath, psychiatrist, neuroscientist and writer Iain MacGilchrist the author of The Master and His Emissary . This was concerning his recently produced, almost encyclopedic book, ‘The Matter With Things’ which Perspectiva published. Mainstream imprints, wanted to cut down much of the content of this author’s book. Which was too counterproductive to McGilchrist’s core intentions.

In the middle of the summer vacation Perspectiva also sent out a survey to it’s member or followership, pursuing the question of ‘What is a visionary?’ Perpsectiva’s founder Jonathan Rowson’s insightful article on just this topic, can be found here on substack. I should be publishing my responses to the survey shortly.

In October 2023 Perspectiva held space for a new exploration titled Temporics. Their invitation read like this;

In October, we start with time. What was once experienced as a background seems to rapidly foreground itself into the cultural consciousness. Our experience of time is increasingly shaped by a feeling of acceleration, driven by an economic system converging with exponential technology. Or we experience it as a scarce resource — ‘running out’ — in relation to addressing issues like climate change. If time isn’t what it used to be, what comes next, and how can we participate in finding new expressions of time and space?

These enquiries took the form of four sessions outlined here, videos are linked where available;

October 9: ‘The Age of Irruption’ with Jeremy Johnson
October 16: ‘Weaving Time’ with Bonnitta Roy
October 23: ‘Futurability’ with Ivo Mensch
October 30th: Lineages & Transmission: Bonnitta, Jeremy, and Ivo together

Aboriginal Art shared by Bonnitta Roy

What is described below, occurred in the Futurability session hosted by Ivo Mensch, where he invited us into an exploration of Time. Of how we may harness time’s power, and get a feel for the latent potential, in different temporal modes, available to us when engaging in futuring. His presentation also explored the ontological gravity of time, as well as the activation of the capacity to shape or form the future. The objective was also, to attempt to loosen the incipient strictures on the imaginal realm, by exploring a non linear relationship to time.

Drawing on his background in Zen Buddhism, Ivo invited us into pair dialogues investigating the nature of time using the austere sentence structure ‘What is Time?’ Each of the pair had about five minutes to muse, reflect, cogitate on the spot and riff verbally about the nature of time, informed hopefully, by the inputs of the Temporics series so far!

This dialogue form is a time honoured enquiry method, that I would term as koan-istic, frequently utlised in Zen. The best known koan forms might be ‘What’s the sound of one hand clapping?’ or ‘What was your original face before you were born?’ Where the use of these koans bypasses, bamboozles and undermines the highly automatised processes of linear rational thought. With the idea that such dialogic exchanges, with sufficient time, attention and passion, may give rise to revelatory glimpses about the nature of existence, dharma or truth.

One element I particularly enjoy about this method, is the lack of guidance or advice, or suggestion about how to respond. The structure of one incisive foundational question, offered repeatedly, poses a piercing challenge to one’s deeply personal relationship to thought, feeling and when taken far enough, to one’s own presuppostions about the very nature of existence. At this moment in time I found the invitation to engage in the question both thrilling and liberating.

Thus in my dialogical pair in the breakout room, we each took turn and when the other paused, we gently repeated the question inviting the other to answer the question once more, ‘What is Time?’ This created the framework, a holding space, a creative void into which, to manifest as many as possible of the ideas, sentiments, hunches, intimations and subliminal currents that had been provoked by the current session on Futurability. As well as the preceding investigations with Bonnie on ‘Weaving Time’ and Jeremy on ‘Irruptions’.

Below is a lightly edited transcript of my voice recording of my contributions and responses to the koanistic question ‘What is Time?’

A five minute spontaneous reflection and improvisation on Time.

20:45 What is time?

I think at this moment for me, it’s a philosophical exploration, an experiential inquiry. What is it? In this moment for me; it is to discover and explore and sense into the ramifications of time.

21:02 What is time?

Time is this moment together right now, with you, with your eyes closed, for me, it is improvising like crazy, just based on whatever comes into my head, which is fun. So going on like that Ad-Lib. Time can be a moment of pure spontaneity of complete immersion and total enjoyment.

21:15 What is time?

Time is the sense that this session is going to end or sense of linear Chronos, a sense of elongation of anticipatory expectation. Ivo was talking about this, we’re hardwired to predict what’s going to happen. So inevitably, I think however enjoyable, whatever situation I’m in. I’m thinking about the ending at some point. I realize I am automatically anticipating an ending that might be coming down the line. And that’s just an automatic reactive pattern, to this sense of being trapped in linear time.

21:51 What IS time

When you say IS your intonation that takes me a little bit into a more into an experiential direction. So what is the experience of time? I think I’m more interested, in the experience of no time, of timelessness, of eternity, of source, of belonging to the cosmos, which is free from time, free from the slavery of embodiment, of being embodied being, in an encapsulated skin of consciousness, a skeleton, caught up in the suffering of having a body in a somewhat short lifespan.

22:29 What is Time?

Time is alertness to subtlety and nuance, to sharpen attention in the moment, and the living moments of time, is being totally for me in this moment. Which is being totally alive, totally attuned and awake to nuance, to subtlety and to possibility. So, using my full sensory capacities, to be conscious of what might be emerging in my experience, in any moment, to be totally attuned and tuned. I think this is thin time, rather than thick time. Because everything has slowed down. So slowing down. This inquiry, catalyzes me to go countercultural and slow down, not speed up.

23:24 What is time?

Time is a lifespan. I was born and my lifespan is my personal history. This body was born 68 years ago, in Britain to a Eurasian mother and an English father. Into a family of six children, Roman Catholic, two brothers, three sisters. So time is a kind of personal chronology of my own history of growing up and my life’s journey you could say. That it is my own personal, historical relationship to embodied time. My life’s journey as mapped out in Bonnita Roy’s shared slide. Looking back into that spectrum of possibility that was my route, the routes that I drew, so there’s a personal reckoning with my lengthy engagement in life, right here right now.

24:22 What is time?

Time is sometimes under pressure. Sometimes there’s not enough time in the day. Sometimes there’s not a moment to breathe. Sometimes there’s just simply no time, to respond to all the digital information, I’m inquiring into or looking at. And I can’t possibly absorb it all in the time that I’ve got. And I certainly can’t respond to everything I’m interested in. Ivo identified about six different academic sources I’d never heard of in his presentation. And even though I might make a note and look them up, I certainly don’t have the time to look at them all or read them all. Unless I take time off as well. So there’s kind of pressure and the kind of sense of shortage and fighting the battle with time adjusting to sense of inexorable losing of space. It is a collapse of space, to not realize other possibilities.

25:15 What is time? That’s cool, What is time? This time that’s crazy, cool. Space to realise other possibilities!

Now I am just making it up as I go! What is time? I think time is a possibility to reframe our worldview or our life view. This Temporics salon or exploration interests me, because my intuition strongly tells me, that our relationship to time is crucial. So if we, like Gebser, we can sense the ever present origin, we could actually recognise full the arc of time is unfolding in every moment. And our history, each personal history is rooted in the primary, creative fundament of the universe. Then we have an aperspectival or whatever the terminology was used, will have a four or five dimensional relationship to time. So we’re not imprisoned by the sufferings of life and our own challenges. Actually liberated to be more creative with the whole of our being. So a relationships to temporics, allows us to have a deeper and wider relationship with the whole of our existence. To me, it’s a possibility and potential to shift the way we’re operating on Earth currently.

26.23 We’re basically out of time but wow, you hit that out of the park. Very well done.

About the author Dave Pendle; I am synthesising almost 30 years experience in non profit enterprises with over 40 years of deep personal development experience. Passionate about enabling others’ sense of fulfillment, impact and trust, to engage wholeheartedly with inspiration and commitment to 21st century work and life. My website Generative You, explains my interests in more in depth, so do sign up for my newsletter or express and interest in my services, or share there how you best like to connect with me and or subscribe on Medium to stay in touch with my articles.

--

--

Dave Pendle

Navigating this civilizational moment of disruption to usher in the more beautiful world…