Over the past year, I have been running in Riverside Park. (Running being a relative term considering how slowly I progress.) My route takes me south along the river, from 102nd to 92nd, then up the pathway to the 91st Street Gardens. Once there, I continue down the pedestrian walkway to the end where I walk - counterclockwise - around the circular memorial at the end. The memorial is a tribute to the Jews martyred in World War II. After about ten or twelve laps around the memorial, I return home, again in my more-tortoise-than-hare fashion.
Anticlockwise is a significant direction for the Celts. It is called widdershins and is a way of creating sacred space. It feels fitting to create a sacred circle there at a sacred circle. One day I described my jogging route to a wise friend and I asked,
“What might it mean for me to be circling backwards in Time?"
He said, “Because this time you want to get it right?"
I laughed and said, “Trying to get it right? Oh, that's probably not possible. But I am trying to get it more right."
But since that conversation I have been wondering -- What if. What if you could turn back the hands of Time. What would you do instead? Would you learn how to play the piano? Master a second language? Or maybe you would not do certain things the second go round. Criticize less. Complain less. Despair less. Or maybe you would use your second chance to relive certain moments in your life. The joy of holding your child for the very first time. A conversation with a loved one who has now died.
But we know that we cannot go back in Time. The past is fixed and immutable. Right? We perceive Time as a unidirectional no-nonsense straight line, which creates the illusion that we move through Life from point A (birth) to point B (death). However, the straight line is not a good metaphor for me. I prefer to think of Time and Life in terms of the spiral.
So imagine this. Your life has cycled widdershins, back to that distant point in time where an opportunity was lost. Now think about it. Does what you desired so much then, still matter to you now? You might discover that you don't desire it any longer -- not when you really think about it. Maybe your life has been pretty rich and full without it and (lucky you) you can let that one go now.
But what if the desire remains? Ok, you can do something about it. Let's move out of metaphors to concrete action. You regret that you did not learn to play the piano when you were six? Then you can learn now. You can begin in your chair in front of your computer. Go on-line and check the arts listings for piano concerts and buy a ticket. Or if you know someone who teaches piano, call them and ask to take one lesson. Or if you don't know someone who teaches piano, write a friend whose children play the piano and ask for the name and telephone number of their instructor. Just make one concrete step -- so that your desire translates into action.
You wish you had criticized less, complained less, despaired less (I think you can see where this is going)? -- you can begin now. This part has to do largely with your frame of mind and breaking a pattern of thinking.
Here's something that helps in a lot of situations. Say the opposite and see what happens. Example: You constantly pick up after your teenage son. You think: My son drives me crazy because he never picks up his towels. Now say out loud (it has to be out loud): My son does not drive me crazy because he never picks up his towels. Every time it bothers you -- just say the reverse. Chances are you will start to feel differently about it. You may stop picking up towels or you may continue -- but chances are you will complain about it less either way. Chances are the relationship with the son might improve (even if he still doesn't pick up his towels).
But what if -- you want to have a conversation with a loved one who has died. How is that possible? It is not. Sometimes talking to someone about it helps. Sometimes writing a letter to that loved one helps. In that way, you are bringing your desire into the world. But there is something else you can do. You can let that desire inform your life.
What other conversations, gestures of gratitude or love, birthday wishes or congratulations have not been expressed? Then express what is unexpressed. Send a card. Write an email. Pick up the phone. Let your desire to talk to that loved one who is gone manifest itself in the world as an appreciation for all those who are still close at hand. Identify the unmet desire inside you and then take action to bring it into the world. This is how you turn back the hands of Time and recreate your past. But more than that -- this is how your past -- with all its regret and loss and missed opportunity -- can transform your present life and the lives of those around you. You may not get it "right" this time but you may get it "more right".
So, what are you thinking about right now? What desire came to mind as you were reading this?
Well, that's a good place to begin.