Summer passes all too swiftly. Just yesterday it was spring and the woods were full of bluebells and the hedges frothy with hawthorn. Then, only a few days ago, I noticed that the heather is already blooming. Rowan berries hang heavy and ripe on the trees. The hedges are abundant with hazelnuts. After the endless golden days of midsummer, the nights are drawing in again. And despite warm summer temperatures, my Welsh mare is already growing her winter coat.
In the Northern Hemisphere, August 1, the ancient Celtic festival of Lughnasa, celebrates the first fruits and heralds the beginning of the harvest season. It also serves as a bittersweet reminder that we’ve only a month or so left to enjoy the rest of summer before autumn comes, with winter at its heels.
The theme of passing time–and of life passing us by if we don’t seize it–is one of the themes in Brian Friel’s haunting play, Dancing at Lughnasa. Set in a Donegal village in 1936, in Catholic Ireland at its most oppressive, five “spinster” sisters rebel against social constraints and looming poverty by dancing, unbridled and free, for the Pagan feast of Lughnasa. At least for one night, the sisters escape the bonds of linear time and enter Mythic Time.
What if linear time, as we know it, was not “real” at all, but an artificial construct, invented by the patriarchy to keep us all in line?
The late Irish author, poet, and philosopher John O’Donohue, best known for his masterpiece of Celtic spirituality, Anam Cara, shared some fascinating insights on time with Krista Tippett in her podcast series On Being. Their interview, titled The Inner Landscape of Beauty, was recorded shortly before O’Donohue’s unexpected death in 2008. If you listen to one podcast in your life, let it be this one.
According to O’Donohue, Celtic tradition embodies a much larger, more expansive sense of time that is lost to us in our mainstream culture today. Modern life casts time as the enemy. Time is a bully and we’re captive to it. Stress comes from this fractured relationship with time. Rather than being the subject to our own time, our own cycles, and the larger cycles of the seasons, moon, sun, and stars, we have become slaves of Western linear time, which tells us that life is all about doing and productivity, not about being. It’s all about surface time, what O’Donohue calls “rapid-fire, Ferrari time, over-structured, stolen and thieved from you all the time.”
By approaching time differently, we can come into a new relationship with it. By slowing down, we find our rhythm. When we come into rhythm with our own natural cycles (particularly relevant for women, I might add–see my recommended book links below), then we are the subject, not the victim, of time. If we envision time not as a calendar product or something to be “managed,” but as the Mother of Presence, we enter into brand new territory.
Slowing down involves interiority. We need to draw back inside ourselves. When we put all our energy outward, it takes something from the inside. We deplete ourselves. Enjoying good poetry, art, music, and theatre are ways to cultivate interiority, to remind ourselves that there’s a huge inner life inside us. Not only that, but huge gestations and fermentions are going on within us that we’re not even aware of. Then we come to a threshold after which we’ll be able to enter a new passage in life and embrace something new because this secret alchemy has taken place within us. Everything happens in its own time while our Soul choreographs our destiny. When we cross a new threshold, we enter new ground. We experience an emerging fullness, depth, and grace. Then we can embrace Time, seeing it not as our enemy, but as possibility. As transfiguration. We re-orient by asking ourselves not, “What should I do?” but rather, “How can I be?”
Ritual, meditation, contemplative prayer, body work, ecstatic dance, and deep observation of nature and its cycles are all ways of stepping outside of linear time and entering Mythic Time.
This August, how will you unfold and experience the season’s abundance? How will you dance and honor these holy days? How will you be present in the golden sunlight and the nourishing rain? How will you experience Mythic Time and timeless grace?
For a woman-centered approach on honoring the cycles of the year and the embodied cycles of women’s lives, I recommend Ruth Barrett’s excellent Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries and Uma Dinsmore-Tuli’s monumental Yoni Shakti.
This essay is another in my series on how to heal our fractured relationship with time. Here’s my previous essay on the subject, The Art of Reclaiming Lost Time.
Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write women back into history. Her novel, Ecstasy, about composer and life artist Alma Mahler, is now out in paperback. Learn more at her website. If you enjoyed this article, please sign up for Mary’s newsletter.