There’s a Time, Space, and Knowledge practice, “Going Without Going”, in which–in the seated version introduced by Carolyn Pasternak, who passed on this Spring—you start with your right hand on your right knee and your left hand on your left cheek; then you allow both hands to float through space, more and more slowly, until they dock on the knee below and cheek above respectively; after a while, they cast off again, floating in time and space, with no objective other than to relax and be present to experience.
I wonder if Zeno’s Paradox, which tells the story of how Achilles can never catch up with the tortoise, is sending us a message across the centuries, as our sacred world speeds toward a bleak future–in the name of “Progress”.
The tortoise sets out at dawn, but by midday, there is still no sign of Achilles. Meanwhile the ranks of the spectators keep swelling, as latecomers hitch their horses to olive boughs, or swim in through the surf from boats moored further out.
Ancient Greece–who would have thought that the European Union would take away your currency and devalue the steady heartbeat of your precious time under an ancient Sun?
At last, a commotion can be heard at the water’s edge, gradually rising to a roar as spectators catch sight of Achilles striding up the beach. He radiates the quiet grace with which a master archer strings his bow. When he reaches the line of flour that was poured out hours earlier, to mark the start of this storied contest, he stands for a moment. Then he crouches, his eyes not seeing any nearby thing, as silence falls over the sphere of hearing. Suddenly a gasp arises as he launches onto the stony path.
The protagonists of this story, as in all true stories, are earth, air, water, fire; while time stays busy giving birth to every tottering aspiration and solemn fidelity.
Meanwhile an edge of shadow, cast by an olive tree growing beside the path, glides slowly over the sunbaked back of the tortoise. From far below, the roar of the crowd rises up, dim but ominous. Surely she must feel a pang of misgiving, as a rabbit might upon hearing a pack of dogs yelping in the distance; but the heart of the tortoise does not waver. Presently, she passes out of the shadow of the olive tree, and the midday sun once more beats down on her heavy shell. Not for an instant does she pause to rest.
Liner notes: the tortoise, always in touch with the earth, plays the part of the steady beating of the heart; beyond the mind’s conscious control, always present until the very end of our lives. While Achilles represents the wind, the breath, and the flowing waters of life.
Achilles runs with a look of bliss on his face. His entire body moves with such grace and physical mastery of the world that no one looking on can suppress a surge of delight. He soars up the path, his feet seeming scarcely to touch the uneven terrain. Children running behind soon lose sight of him, and are left gasping in the hot dusty air. The sun is directly overhead when Achilles, breathing deeply and rhythmically like one lost in passion, slips into the dappled shade of an olive tree. It is the very olive tree under whose branches the tortoise was passing, at the moment Achilles launched across the starting line, now far below. With two strides, Achilles passes out of the olive’s shade and sweeps into the sunlight again.
And is this tortoise already irrelevant, as irrelevant as a horse-drawn carriage in an age of jets, and of missiles standing at ready in their silos?
In the same instant that Achilles passes under the olive tree, the tortoise crests the hill and catches her first glimpse of the gaily bedecked columns, between which the victorious contestant must pass. An hour might suffice for such a journey. But even now Achilles can be felt close behind as he comes up the hill, like an eagle borne aloft on a rising wind: felt in the faces of the crowd; felt in the rising volume of the crowd’s roar, like an unstoppable wave racing into shore.
The stock markets are open: the odds are greatly in favor of the greatest archer of his age.
Achilles has now also reached the top of the hill and catches his first glimpse of the pillars in the distance. Even closer–perhaps less than ten paces ahead–he sees the broad back of his worthy opponent. His gaze touches the tortoise just as she is stepping over a gnarled root that grows exposed in the beaten path. Achilles now feels a subtle sense of deepening, as if the sunlit air through which he runs quenches some great thirst of his being. His senses drink in the roaring, gesturing tumult, while he moves through a world that has become touched with depth and stillness. As they look on from the sides of the path, the spectators appear like strands of kelp swaying gently above the ocean floor. Achilles drifts between them and reaches the same exposed root, over which the tortoise lumbered a mere moment before.
Let’s get on with it. The Hong Kong markets are about to open and I’ve bet heavily on Facebook’s new surveillance software.
The tortoise is still a full two or three tortoise steps ahead of Achilles, as her rear, left foot causes a small pebble to gouge out a tiny furrow in the packed earth. The quality of her intention is unshakable. Achilles is pulled towards her, like a meteor caught in the gravity of a vast planet. Now Achilles reaches this small pebble. But the tortoise’s foot is no longer touching it. She has moved on. And just as Achilles seems to soar over the broad golden-green back of the tortoise, time slips its traces. The leaves of the olive branches, rustling merrily in the Mediterranean Sea breeze, fall silent, like finely crafted, metal foliage; the faces of the spectators hover at the edges of vast insight.
When I first heard of Zeno’s Paradox, I thought: “Life doesn’t work like that. Time doesn’t fragment into smaller and smaller parcels. Time flows, so Achilles is free to fly over the tortoise’s back. But, now that the whole world can see how accelerating, linear time is destroying our world, perhaps this is a good time to consider that Zeno is sending us a message as, two millennia later, we plunge onwards towards our “finish” line.
For Achilles and the tortoise, the seed of Great Time bursts open. With nowhere to go and no one to go there, future and past fling open their doors and run into one another’s arms.
Our world is getting left behind in the dust, as we pursue one panicked or infatuated impulse after another, many in the name of “Progress”.
Isn’t it time that we let our heads catch up to our hearts so that, together, we can once more care for our world and for one another?