Coming Home - Rediscovering Time & Place

When did it happen that time became a forward line? When did the idea of an inevitability of progress settle in the psyche of the western mind? When did we as human beings set ourselves apart, thinking that we are at the head of the parade? And how does all of that affect our relationship to place and planet? These are questions I have been asking myself for a while, questions I might never have the answers to.

It was at a weekend yoga retreat about 10 years ago, when our teacher gave a welcoming talk on the Friday night. He told us, that unlike we’re used to on our usual holidays, on the retreat we would get up at 5.20am, before sunrise, we would have a structured day with meditation, chanting, yoga practice and working meditation along with two wholesome meals. He says that, although we’re getting up early, come Sunday night, we would feel well rested and relaxed, actually energised and alive.

He continued by illustrating how everything in the natural world has its place and follows its rhythms: the sun rises in the morning and sets at night without failing, the birds sing their songs at dusk and at dawn, other animals follow yearly migration routes, the tides of the oceans come and go orchestrated by the power of the moon and the trees and plants live in intimate relationship with the seasons. The natural world has developed an effective set of patterns in complex relationship with each other.

Humans have found a way to step out of these patterns and rhythms, which all of nature is so attuned to. And, even just on an individual level, the consequences of this rejection of natural patterns have been catastrophic: mental illness, such as depression, related to the stress and unhealthy lifestyles of our culture, is more widespread than ever; We are constantly running as if time was something that can only be found ahead of us, somewhere in the future. In fact, people seem to be time-sick, craving for leisure, that moment that disrupts the timeline we have drawn up for ourselves – from now until the end, start to finish.

Whenever it started, whether it was the recording of history, the discovery of perspective in the paintings of Renaissance, or the invention of artificial light or the clock, us stepping out of the natural cycles and abstracting time into a forward line has seemingly given us permission to violate the planet, thinking we can manipulate nature’s rhythms, and call it ‘progress’. Now when a tsunami or earthquake takes down houses of millions of people, we rebuild them stronger, so that they might withstand the next shock. The flooding caused by deforestation, we follow up with building dams and then find solutions to the problems caused by the dams. We plant what we want when we want, using chemicals to keep the corn growing in exhausted ecosystems and we expect to eat food from around the world, all year round.

Now what does this have to do with place? Interestingly, the disconnection from rhythmic time and the embracing of abstract notions of time went hand in hand with the increased diversion from a direct engagement with the more-than-human world and the loss of our sense of place – our sense of belonging.

But what if we perceived time as rhythmic, ever evolving cycles? What if time, rather than being something abstract, actually is a part of us, engaged with us, in deep intimate relationship with who we are? Will we again listen to the rhythms of the land, the coming and going of the days, moons and seasons? Would this understanding take us home to discover place?

Many past cultures and current indigenous (e.g. ‘of the earth’) cultures know how to take care of the land while looking after themselves. They have a living relationship to the food they eat. The work that they do relates to the earth, the place, the people – it is a direct means for survival and vital to their own and their community’s spiritual wellbeing. In all of it, they embody the rhythms and patterns of the natural world. These flow through them just as they flow through the land, the food, the animals, the sun and moon.

This rhythmic notion of time, coming into relationship with space is what makes place possible – and what makes belonging possible. In other words, place and belonging need both of those dimensions, space and time. While ‘space’ is a word that stands for the physical description of a piece of land, ‘place’ connotes emotional value associated with that space. There is no place without story, which is created through the cycles of our and previous generations’ engagement with the space.

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In the western world, especially in the transient cities, we seem to have lost every connection to place and we end up living in and surrounded by soulless spaces that do not speak a language we understand, and don’t tell a story that we relate to. It leaves people longing for belonging. All that remains is the race against time, in search of a vacation to take a breath, to find a moment where we can connect to place and to time. Glenn Aparicio Parry, author of the book Original Thought, which greatly inspired this post, uses the metaphor of “unwinding our compressed time’” as appropriate for those living by the clock, “because we become so wound up that we are like alarm clocks, poised to go off at any time.” We lack time to find space to create place.

The current resurgence of young people interested in growing food, the permaculture and re-localisation movement that we observe in western countries around the world are both clear signs and an expression of this longing to come home and be a part of, rather than apart from the earth. Farmers markets have been spreading throughout the cities and people are retelling the story of what it’s like to prepare the ground, plant a seeds, nurture it as it grows, harvest the fruits – this is a reintegration into the rhythms of the earth; people are retelling the stories of their communities, building relationships, finding an identity that is larger than themselves.

PDC Monestevole

Will the coming home to place lead to the coming home to time? Will the rediscovery of time lead to the rediscovery of place? Are we rediscovering our belonging to earth, to land, to waters? Could it be that deep down, what we are truly looking for is a coming home to an intimate relationship to rivers, trees, rocks? How would this coming home affect our lives, our cultures, the planet? Can we regenerate ecosystems and restore place?

This is, I believe, where the magic of Permaculture lies; It is a coming home to place, a reconnection to natural patterns and a reintegration into the larger ecosystem we are a part of.