Sundials, Clepsydra, and Sandbags

“The increase of disorder or entropy is what distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to time.” – Stephen Hawking, A Brief of History of Time

Recently the concept of time has been on my mind, both the mechanics we measure it with and the philosophical leaps it engenders. A year passes into the next, and we sense revival. We buzz with the static of another shot for the world turned kind again. It is easy to forget that all the demarcations on time are only dreams agreed upon. Still I prefer to dream. But lately I have become an observer of myself in time.

As early as 1,500 B.C. the Egyptians used sundials to divide the day into two twelve-hour cycles. Later the  Romans would calibrate clepsydras (water clocks) using sundials to tell time when there was no sun. The seven day week was firmly established in the 4th century by Roman Emperor Constantine. The early divisions between was, now, and will be were in place.

“The two most powerful warriors are patience, and time.” Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

Seek pain. That is the theme of this month’s Go Ruck challenge I have signed up for.  Go Ruck is a training program developed by former Special Forces officers based on rucking (hiking with a weighted backpack) and CrossFit. Since January 1st I have hefted a thirty-pound sandbag onto my back, and moved out regardless of the weather. It is satisfying to endure and do. The stoic philosopher Seneca said, “The obstacle is the way.” The more I suffer the more stillness I find inside. 

The pendulum clock was improved by Galellio. The wristwatch appeared in World War I. In 1950 the National Physical Laboratory developed the atomic clock with the second as its prime unit of measure. In the 1960s the invention of the laser allowed time to be measured to the attosecond (1018) which became the standard for international time. 

“The trouble is, you think you have time.”- Jack Kornfield, Buddhist teacher

I bought an Ink+Volt planner for this year. In it I note my goals with their timeframes, and track how my time spent aligns with them. It is a North Star to guide myself through the fog of days passing. 

The scientific standard for measuring time is called the “caesium standard”. This measures the exact number of cycles of radiation – 9,192 631,770 – that it takes for a caesium 133 atom to transition from one state of energy into another. We have reduced our markers for time from the Sun to the atom.

But time may be as much a dream as the dream of newborn grace on the horizon. Carlo Rovelli in The Order of Time posits the mechanics of the universe exist outside of time. He argues events are the only true measure of time. Time is what we remember.

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”- Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

Time is what we hold in the afterwards, and what we do now. It is what we are mindful of rather than when. Even in our cherry blossom lives we can warp time with a memory or a single line written.

Read this

“The Illusion of Time” Andrew Jaffe, Nature

Atomic Habits James Clear

Listen to this

Irma Thomas “Time is On My Side”