Although we don’t often think about it, our perception of time plays a huge role in the modern disconnect from Nature. Most of the West uses the Gregorian calendar to mark the passage of time: about 30 days per month, arranged in rows of seven-day weeks, four weeks per month, 12 months per year. All of it expressed using that most loathsome of shapes, the square. Has there ever been a polygon more indicative of the root problems facing our world than the square? It is the antithesis of the counterculture’s circles or triangles or what-have-you. If our vernacular language is any indication, we seem to be aware of this, at least subconsciously : we say someone is ‘square’ if they aren’t with-it-and-hip, and that someone who is A Square is part of the establishment.
The problem with the square is that it doesn’t really exist in Nature. Circles and hexagons in Nature? Tons of ‘em. Squares? Not so much. The natural world is, by its very nature, organic, irregular, chaotic, while the square—by its nature—is linear, efficient, unnatural…which is to say, civilized.
Now, how does the lack of squares in nature relate to time? Let us remember that uncivilized Paleo-man saw time pass in the natural cycles of the square-free world that surrounded him: the 13 months of the lunar year, the four seasons of the solar year, etc. While man lived in an unconquered world, he understood that the forces governing time were the same ones that governed the rest of his world: organic, cyclical powers. He could see Time flowing all around him, just as could see Nature change from season to season. Enter civilized man, who attempted to control time the same way he attempted to control everything else he knew: by putting it in a box. The idea of the linear calendar is an invention unique to civilized people: Paleo-man understood that time flows organically, like everything else in Nature, and cannot be contained in a box.
So what can we do to overcome this Western obsession with controlling Time?
Get a new calendar. Feel free to design your own, but here’s a cyclical year-at-a-glance calendar I put together, combining Gregorian, Solar (the Equinoxes and Solstices), and Celtic (still used archaically when we refer to ‘Midwinter’ or ‘Midsummer’s Day’) calendars to mark the seasons.
Fill it in with your own holidays.* Feel free to keep using a civilized square calendar, but keep this one next to it. Want to combine Western and Eastern views of time? Print out a few, cut them out, and tape ‘em together in a spiral of years:
“You of the West…think of time moving in a straight line, from past to present to future. Your eastern brothers regard time as a circle, returning endlessly in a cycle of decay and rebirth. Both ideas have a dimension of the truth. If you were to combine geometrically the movement of the circle with the movement of the line, what would you have?” In a helical model, “time moves on, but history repeats itself.”
*While I’m on the subject of Nature and Time, let’s have a few words on Tolkien and dates. Next time you read The Lord of the Rings, take note of on what days important things happen. Significant occasions match up within a few days of solar dates and/or Celtic holidays: the Fellowship sets out 25 December (shortly after the Winter Solstice), the Ring is destroyed 25 March (shortly after the Vernal Equinox), Aragorn is crowned 1 May (the Celtic fire-festival of Beltane, the first day of Summer), is wed on ‘Midyear’s Day’ (21 June, the Summer Solstice, although calendar errors usually report this as 1 July), and Bilbo and Frodo Baggins celebrate their birthday on the Autumnal Equinox, 22 September.
By using these specific dates, the Professor helps connect his heroes and their deeds quite firmly to the underlying powers of the Natural world which they struggle to uphold.