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Plus: System 1 and System 2 Thinking: A reframe
This week, the idea of time sat with me. Winter is holding on strong, but it feels like a transition to spring is right around the corner. I’m feeling the urge to work on some home improvement projects and to figure out our family’s next moves. Both in school and for the summer. And I’m trying to give myself time to sit with my own next chapter. All of which led to this week’s writing on my relationship with time.
If you want to understand the Tao, you must take it very slowly and keep it very simple. Otherwise, you may miss it, though it is right in front of you.
-Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul
Around the same time every morning—usually at a quarter past one—I become aware of my chest. I always know I have a chest, but it’s not until I feel the tightness around my heart and the pressure which refuses to give an inch to the air which I need that I become truly aware of the chest. The pressure pulls me from the dream world. Once the awareness creates space, thoughts follow to fill the void. After all nature hates a void.
I stealthily slide out from the covers, don my wool sweater and slippers, and tip-toe downstairs. My muscles know every step and every doorknob without the aid of my vision. I light the fireplace and sit on the couch, where I behold the same thoughts that visited me yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. These hours alone are always the same. I used to believe this was my worst nightmare, stuck in a Groundhog’s Day remake without Bill Murray to entertain me. Now I know these mornings are essential.
They provide me with the one thing I need most. Time
My relationship with time has evolved over the years. As a child, time held me back from escaping the walls of class and marked the minutes until football or volleyball practice. In college and the military, time was the regimented orchestra of movements. Whether it was the steps in drill, the minutes until I ran out of gas, or the number of times my radar saw a target, time was to be respected and adhered to. Later, time was always passing as I’ve watched my children grow older and more independent.
Time was all things except one: abundant.
In those moments before dawn, I find that time has a new meaning. In Garden City, Mark Comer1 writes
What does God make holy?
You would think that after creating the world, God would make a holy space — a mountain or a temple or a shrine. After all, every other religion has a holy space. Islam has Mecca. Hinduism has the Ganges River. Paganism has Stonehenge. Baseball has Wrigley Field.
But this God doesn’t have a holy space; he has a holy time — the Sabbath. This God isn’t found in the world of space — in a temple, on top of a mountain, at a spring, around a statue or a monument. He’s found in the world of time.
Contrast that with my daily understanding of time. The hours until I have to pick up my children, make dinner, and publish this newsletter. The minutes of time on my meditation timer or the seconds holding a handstand as part of today’s workout. Maybe the newsletter is holy, but the rest of it? Not quite the relation to qadosh that you get from reading Genesis.
And yet, the best things in life take their time. Take the quote from Michael Singer about understanding the Tao. All things take their proper time. Look at the Christian Mystics, who all took time and space to worship their relation to God. The experience of true love refuses to be crammed into a 9-5 schedule. As Teresa of Avila said “Let nothing disturb the silence of this time with you, my Lord.”
It’s hard to even find time to contemplate what that means most days.
At school, we have regular IEP meetings for my children. These 60 minute meetings are an agreement about the services the school will provide to help my children succeed in their education. If ever there was a place for nuanced discussion and agreement, teaching children with unique needs should be it. Yet we only have 60 minutes, barely enough time to get through the procedures. There just isn’t time to have the deep, nuanced discussion2 about goals and philosophies that should enter that room. The system isn’t designed for that.
This week, I was sitting with a new friend. Laptop on my lap, he in his own home, we danced with each other through stories of our past, our aspirations, and our understanding of who we are in the modern world. He shared his entry into philosophy, the byline to the Christian mystics, Buddhism, and the Vedics. I interjected during long pauses about my newfound fascination with the mystics and the desire to cultivate wisdom. I was shocked when I heard myself say, “I’m looking for a guide on this spiritual path.” It wasn’t where our conversation had started. Yet with an abundance of time, what I truly desired came through.
I’d like to offer a new relationship with time. I’d like to cultivate abundance. And I wonder if you’d like to join me
System 1 and System 2 Thinking
In Thinking, Fast and Slow, most of us first learned about System 1 and System 2 thinking. If you’re not familiar
System 1 thinking: Our brains’ fast, automatic, unconscious, and emotional response to situations and stimuli. This can be in the form of absentmindedly reading text on a billboard, knowing how to tie your shoelaces without a second thought, or instinctively hopping over a puddle on the sidewalk.
System 2 Thinking: The slow, effortful, and logical mode in which our brains operate when solving more complicated problems. For example, System 2 thinking is used when looking for a friend in a crowd, parking your vehicle in a tight space, or determining the quality-to-value ratio of your take-out lunch.3
In popular thought, our System 1 thinking is almost a liability we have to always keep an eye on. Yes, it helps us deal with the overwhelming amount of information we encounter day to day, but for the big problems, it can lead us astray.
I never felt quite comfortable with this portrayal. Sure, I’d seen myself jump to conclusions that were obviously wrong (if the amount of lillypads double every day and the whole pond is covered in lillypads on day 20, when is it half covered?). Even still, something felt off about this notion that our evolutions had optimized this system to regularly give me errors. I didn’t have the language for it, but I knew something didn’t sit right.
In John Verveake’s Lecture on Intelligence, Rationality, and Wisdom, he proposed that System 1 evolved for caring. In the language we talked about last week, System 1 is our center of procedural and participatory knowing. He also suggested that System 1 is the machinery that enables us to leap to insight, and we train it through mindfulness.
The idea that our two systems each provide benefits in different domains feels intuitively true to me. System 2 must correct System 1 when we’re trying to develop theories. System 1 must prevent System 2 from stopping insight, especially in a therapeutic or somatic situation.
Our best selves are not found in one camp or the other, but in the emergent space where the two combine.
Photographs this week
This week was really cloudy, so I didn’t get a lot of pictures of sunrise. As a reminder, I’ve been posting these daily to Twitter. If you like them, please follow me to see them every morning.
A quick reminder about our daily devotional experiment
As I mentioned last week, I am running an experiment to bring the act of creating to the forefront of my mind. Inspired by daily devotionals such as this one from Tolstoy, I’ve been sharing a small thought on the act of creation in the chat. This week’s threads were about creating as a gift to ourselves, the tension between a slow process and the flash of a moment, how to enjoy creating without needing reward, and the muscle required to keep creating every day.
If any of that is interesting, I’d love for you to join the chat.
Until next week, have an intentionally curious week,
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I find the idea of a Bohmian Dialogue fascinating. I’d love to be part of a long, nuanced, unhurried conversation like Bohm describes. I suspect I’d both enjoy it and feel the urge to move to action quickly. Even I, wanting an abundance of time, feel hurried to action.