The course of time

An entry in my diary from last week refers to the arrival of warm air outside! After a very cold winter and bleak spring, it felt wonderful to open the doors and windows to let in the fresh, soft, warm air.

There is much to do, mowing, planting, trimming hedges and generally clearing up the detritus of last years glorious summer. Here in rural France we feel particularly close to the seasons and their rhythms; looking out for the new moon and welcoming back returning birds: swallows, owls and cuckoos.

A particular friend is a Great Egret that first visited our small lake for a month in 2007, but now stays with us from November through March – and has raised a family for each of the last two years.

It must have been a great shock to our ancestors when, in a relatively short space of time, we changed from keeping time with the seasons to keeping time with a clock. Quite suddenly, under pressure from the enclosures and rapid industrialisation, workers had to work to the beat of the machine, rather than the beat of their heart.

Living in over-crowded, often squalid cities we could no longer be self-sufficient, no longer forage for ourselves. Far from the soil, the sounds and the feel of nature, we became dependent. Gradually the natural world has been forgotten as we have become enveloped in iron, steel and concrete.

Living close to nature (‘the real world’) you notice that it takes time for things to happen, you have to wait. Plant a seed and wait – if the conditions are right, a small miracle of growth will occur. The seed might become a mighty oak or a beautiful orchid, but whichever it is, will need time to go through various stages of growth.

We tend to forget the difference between the needs of such complex, natural systems and those of much simpler, linear business systems which drive our working world. We confuse these two types of systems to our eternal detriment and loss.

Our corporate world uses human beings as if they are machines. We forget that you can not take nine women, impregnate them, give them a month each and then assemble the parts into a whole baby.

In this forgetting, we impatiently rail against our world – firing people who do not make things happen quickly enough, changing direction too soon, throwing away countless babies with oceans of bathwater. Rarely taking our time.

In days gone by they knew that it takes years to learn a trade. A young man, or woman, would have been apprenticed for between seven and ten years, before going out into the world as a journeyman. At which point they could contribute to their community and provide for a family.

This ancient system continued until the middle of the last century – my own father completed a five year engineering apprenticeship in Coventry in 1936 and was awarded the freedom of the city as a consequence.

Real learning like that has a strong affective component and requires change, not just change like a change of clothes, but change of identity. By the time you have been through a long apprenticeship, you are a different person. A profound change takes place over time.

In a way we are all apprentices: apprenticed to each other, to life, to our ideals. We can learn much from those around us, but nourishing the seeds of love in one another takes time and a commitment to giving.

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