The Wisdom of Living in Deep Time: A New Frontier

by Caryl Ann Casbon

“The years, the months, the days, and the hours have flown by my open window. Here and there an incident, a towering moment, a naked memory, an etched countenance, a whisper in the dark, a golden glow —these and much more are the woven fabric of the time I have lived.

– Howard Thurman, With Head and Heart

“This seems to be the harsh secret of time: the more our bodies and minds are carved out, the more brightly we shine.”

– Mark Nepo, The One Life We Are Given

“How did it get so late so soon?”

– Dr. Seuss

One of the marks of an elder is that she or he has a changing relationship with time. Obviously, time is no longer an endless stretch of hours, days, months, or years. Elders do the math. If you are paying attention at all, you know that, within the next [fill in the blank] you will be at the end of your days. Like a deep sea diver who has been submerged for a long time, you know the air tank of your body is running out of oxygen, and you soon will have to surface and return Home.

This sense of diminishing supply brings a new awareness to time. Time, like air or light, is difficult to write about or even imagine, yet, in so many ways, it dictates our lives. An invisible force, we measure it, organize it, clock it, fill it, waste it, lose it, fear it, and interrupt it. When we retire, many face vast amounts of unstructured time that can feel liberating, terrifying, lonely, inviting, or desolate… Time is suddenly a new threshold, a new frontier, and, at times, frightening.

Paradoxically, within this freedom of time, I feel urgency around wasting my time.  I no longer tolerate feeling rushed, and I’m terrible at multitasking. When doing something important to me, I want all of the time in the world to go the distance with it, whether meeting a close friend for lunch, or writing this essay. My soul seems to hunger for what I have begun to call ventures into “Deep Time.”

With aging, I am drawn to more solitude and quiet, thresholds for entering this Deep Time. William Glasser talks about experiencing different dimensions of time through the lenses of: speed, quality, and depth. When in the gear of speed, we cover lots of ground, attend to the clock, get things done, check things off our lists and are focused on efficiency. Time tends to fly right along with us. When giving attention to quality, we attune to beauty, craft, details, origins, nuances, design, and impact. Quality isn’t rushed. When going for depth, there is a shift to timelessness, where one can venture into the essence of things to discover wisdom, meaning, and relatedness. There is a quality of resonance, when you have arrived at a deep truth or insight that speaks to your core, to your soul. You have found the gold of wisdom at the center of your experience. When thinking about speed, quality, and depth, I wonder: what shifts us into this gear of depth?

Last summer my husband and I bought kayaks to explore the many small lakes near our home. When we ventured out on our first voyage, excited to be attempting this new activity, we paddled hard to see how far we could travel. It was fun, and we got really tired. (Speed.) 

On the next trip, we rowed along the shore, studying the trees and beaches, observing the eagle nests, and appreciating the sun playing on the waves. It was lovely. (Quality.) 

On the third trip, now accustomed to our shiny, new “sports equipment,” I paddled along, delighted to be steering my own boat, yet being near my partner. I thought about our marriage and how it is so much like this. We are together, yet in charge of our own destinies as well, and how I savor this combination of closeness and independence. I considered how life lived at a slower pace is richer for me. I let my mind go and felt how Spirit carries me when I am relaxed, how I am held by this Grace, have always been held in this Love. I arrived at a place of profound gratitude and peace. (Depth.)

This third trip is an example of how “Deep Time” works; it’s a shift from surface to depth, with metaphor often serving as a bridge. It is a movement from observation, to making meaning, and at times, encountering Mystery. Any experience offers the potential for progressing from the surface to the depths, or sacred ground, given the right conditions and the quality of our presence to experience it. Wisdom, meaning, and depth – the ingredients for a fulfilling life -are discovered in Deep Time.

When faced with decisions about how to spend this precious resource called time, I find myself running them through this filter: Will this opportunity offer me experiences of speed, quality, or depth?  (Of course, sometimes speed is just the right pace!) How is my relationship to time bringing me alive or wearing me down? At what speed am I living my life? We invite you to explore your relationship with how you spend your time, your days, your life.

From The Soul of Aging

A Ten-Session Guide for Leading the Circle of Trust® Approach in Congregations and Faith Communities

Developed by Courage & Renewal® Facilitators Caryl Hurtig Casbon and Georgia Noble