by Joanna Gilar
The snowdrops are here, and so, with a few hiccups in the flat muddy ground, are the purple fire crocuses. My eighteen-month-old son crouched down beside our boggy path yesterday, poked the pale shell of an incipient crocus and said, “Hello!” In his mind, perhaps, a multitude of small purple ones had come to join the vibrancy of life that exists in our garden, with its dogs, chickens, ducks, daddy, mummy, grandma, aunt, and now a hundred or so fresh-faced crocuses.
As well as snowdrops and crocuses there are also daisies in the park behind our house, and daffodils along the roadside, nodding their heads with oncoming spring. I would have liked to teach my son to identify March by its daffodils. A friend posted a picture of a daff in a London park, asking, “What is this?” Helpful friends surged to identify, before she had assured them that she knew its name, but was taken aback by its January presence.
This is the week of Imbolc, and, as Sharon wrote in her article last week, while we know very little about its origins, what we do know is that it is somehow associated with the earliest pinpricks of new spring. The ancient joy we feel in the return of spring has been the same, perhaps, since before we were linguistic. It has likely given rise to great swathing categories of words themselves, and in some parts defines our existence of Earth inhabitants. Yet today it is tinged with muted panic and a sense of temporal impropriety. Yes, flowers are blossoming earlier than they have before. No, no one really knows what it means. What once reminded us only of joy now has become political, global, inseparable.
Once I was at a magical conference in Southwick, Sussex, and Marian Green, renowned for her work on witchcraft, was talking. The date was Imbolc 2017, the year after the elections that changed the face of the world. Everything suddenly seemed very dark, and full of looming shadows. One of the questions asked of Marian was “What is the use of magic in difficult times?” Her answer was surprising. It wasn’t about changing anything. It was about the capacity for silence. Those who work with magic, said Marian, any kind or type of magic, learn how to be silent. And when the world is changing so drastically, those that can respond to it are those who know how to make time to hear what it is saying.
Spring is coming in swathes of flowers, and what I have been wondering this winter, as the shoots have been silently working on returning, is about time: specifically, types of time. What kind of time does it take for the flowers to uncover themselves? What is the quality of that time underground, in the depths of the soil? And how much, as Marian suggested, do we need that kind of slow time in order to work with the present time on earth?
My reflections may, to be fair, have been motivated by envy. Throughout the winter, as the mum of a toddler and a part-time freelancer, my time has been a constant scrabble of getting this article done, this email posted, that application sent, and preventing my little one from watching too much Peppa Pig and drawing all over the wooden floor in crayon. There has not been much time to sleep and brew, a time that I miss with deep yearning. When my son is asleep or out of the house with others, my spare time is often taken up in the constant discussion that is online time, a place of intense humanity and swift doing.
Online time is a rich door to the thought-sharing that allows me to think with others and write embedded and mattering words. Yet the thing about the internet is that it is all human; abstract thought in its most literalised form. What does this mean about its time? Online, we share time – time frames, time possibilities, time expectations – with millions of humans across the globe. Yet we share that space with nothing – and no one – else. No dog time, no bird time, no squirrel time. No chicken time, no crocus time, no soil time. What does it mean for our minds today that – given our near-constant connectedness to our screens – we spend the multitude of our existence in human-solo time?
Now, what I understand about time is the following: a) we don’t get it; b) it is much more fluid and connected to human consciousness than we can comprehend; c) matter impacts time. Out there in space, when you have a big object – a planet, for example, or one of those bulky stars – it impacts the spacetime flow around it and makes it curve. As if you had placed a heavy ball on rubber and the rubber bends.
So what I wonder is – does time online work differently when there is literally nothing material to impact it? Now admittedly, I’m making a major jump here from cosmology to intuitive personal experience. But doesn’t it feel as if it does? That time online – what exhilaration! Conversations can be had across the world and back, fireworks explode across global consciousness, lit and released in the blink of an eye. Possibilities of knowledge-sharing, and thus of world-changing, are there like they have never been before. What exhilaration, and what oppression simultaneously. Sometimes it feels to me as if the parts of us that go deep cannot hear themselves think.
Say I turn the internet off and bring my attention back to my little wooden house. I have to make the conscious decision to do it. When I do so, I can literally feel the parts of me that brew relaxing. The parts of me that brew want to talk to the table edges, to the weight of our kitchen chairs. This is where they feel comfortable. This is not internet time. It’s not even clock time. Some people might call this state of awareness ‘mindful’. I would prefer to call it material – i.e. alive with what’s in physical space around you. And I wonder constantly what difference it makes to our creative capacities, whether we can find for ourselves material space in which to grow what we are making. After all, in fairy tales, those who reach their happily-ever-afters are those who live in material time. The fairy tale champions are not the ones who know what they are doing and go straight towards it, but the dreamers and fools who spend much of their life staring into the fire, and consequently have a super-sensitive awareness of their surroundings, able to hear that request from the apple tree, that plea from a robin, that instruction from a toad that changes everything.
Back in our world, we don’t all necessarily have the luxury of staring into the flames and dreaming with the space between the embers. We need to make money, to look after our small ones, to fight for what we believe in, and to communicate. For my work, I know that keeping up with globally transmitted time is crucial. I know this because when I don’t open the news, when I don’t click on those articles that hold global conversation on the edges or innards of the world from which others are slowly being exterminated, I live more shoddily and less responsibly. I slip into the lulling music of normality, and forget to remember the urgency of the agonising change that the world is holding.
Yet I often wonder about how to keep a balance between this, and the spaces of slow time in which different things grow. So this Imbolc, I’m thinking about the crocuses that my son now has the ability to greet, but I’m thinking also about the place they grew in, and the quality of time it took for them to grow. It seems to me that that type of time is the same kind of time as that which grows dreams. The shoots grow embedded in last years leftovers, granulated muck, humus made out of everything that was and will be. So do our dreams grow, in the turning over of our leftovers, in the forgotten crumbs of day and night, in all of our most bizarre material meetings and half-digested encounters.
What’s happening to the world now is not just horrific. Perhaps it’s a great puncturing in the slow patterns of time. Its a profound and fundamental change in the psyche of the world, a time when we need to change our mindsets. We can’t do this quickly. We need the compost of deep silence, the soil of physicality, materiality, and slow presence. To face our times, as well as doing what we can, we also need to be still enough to learn their soil, and learn to slowly speak whatever it is the material world is growing through us.
Image: ‘Hares Asleep Under a Winter Tree’ by Hannah Giffard: www.hannahgiffard.com