I’m kind of an almanac-y guy. I like a day’s statistics—what the high and low temperatures were, the average temperatures, the precipitation. I like to note where a day is in the annual round—solstices, equinoxes, cross-quarter days and everything in between. I like weird holidays (as I finish writing this on August 20, it’s National Radio Day). I like “on this day in history” recognitions—on this day who was born, on this day who died. I get Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac” by email every day—and I look at it. Call me a dork, an idiot savant, anal, whatever. For whatever reason, I like to mark the days.
I’ve found myself pretty active on Facebook in the last few years. And by its nature—encouraging users to mark what’s going on in the moment—I’ve found it a fun venue to be “Mr. Almanac.” To the annoyance of some and to the delight of maybe a few, I have regularly posted about significant (and not-so-significant) historical events, weather records, celebrity birthdays and so forth. Once, in response to someone’s wonderment over why I bothered with a lot of this trivia, I said in a semi-mocking, Mister Rogers-ish voice, “Because every day is special.” But there was a lot of truth to that. At the risk of too much sentimentality, I do think we need to appreciate each of our days and to acknowledge, if not honor, its uniqueness.
Early this summer—late May or June—I tried a new time-marking method on Facebook. The moon was full. So that evening, I simply posted “Full” on Facebook. That sparked a lot of clever commentary, such as “of…”—well, you know. I posted “Full” for a couple more days until I was finally able to get to “Waning Gibbous.” And throughout the month, every evening like clockwork, I would post the phase of the moon, all the way through Last Quarter, Waning Crescent, New, Waxing Crescent, First Quarter, Waxing Gibbous and back to Full.
Something unexpected happened during my Facebook “moon phase” period early this summer. Although my birthday and history postings tuned me into a particular day, they didn’t connect me that much to the passage of time. You might think that if your intention is focused on the time passing, it would do so more quickly. But the opposite happened for me. While hardly an act of Transcendental Meditation, my moon markings brought me into the present day and focused me on the now, but it also placed me more in the continuum of time. Paying attention to that passage of time, being present in it, bringing it more into my fuller awareness—I discovered that time actually passed more slowly.
Most of us seem to live in the future, not in the present (and don’t get me started on forgetting the past). That puts us in a perpetually provisional state—the now is rarely here with us, and we lose our sense of being in the world. This is what happened to me in July of this year. The end of June and July was a busy time for me. In July, I taught a writing workshop at the David R. Collins Writers’ Conference in the Quad Cities and both a weeklong and weekend workshop in the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. Our annual vacation to the Minnesota North Woods was scheduled for the end of the month as well. The workshops and our vacation took a lot of planning and mental preparation. I spent much of my time in July preparing for these events rather than being in any particular moment. Even as one writing workshop ensued, my mind and activity were at least partially focused on the next one down the road, not to mention the impending family trip away from home. In the midst of all this, I dropped any sort of “almanac” activities on Facebook or anywhere else. And July flew by like a derecho. Not because I was busy, I think, but because I was paying too much attention to the next and not enough to the now.
Now, those July activities were tremendous—enjoyable and fulfilling. I wouldn’t have traded them for anything. At the same time, I feel like I missed a lot. While marking time with the moon phases, I was pulled into consciousness of nature’s pace outside of humanity’s artificial bustle. And because I was duly noting the phase each and every day, I often would stop and stare into the night sky, both confirming the reality of my cyberspace notation, and, more significantly, pulling me into the lunar state of the day, which was always quiet, leisurely, beautiful and awesome, in the original sense of that word. The richness and deepness of the nightly passage did much to connect me to the profoundness beyond me—and there’s no rush in that kind of being in the world.
It’s a staple of thinking about consciousness—whether it’s Buddhism or meditation or yoga or whatever the case may be—that being in the now means stronger connection with the world about us. I have experienced that a deliberate marking of time aids in that now-ness and that connection. That can happen whether you want to connect to a spiritual realm, your body, nature, family or community.
And now Little Village is doing its part to strengthen our connections to community with a twice-monthly schedule! Yes, from here on out, we’ll all benefit from twice the fun, information and inspiration from LV. For me, LV has been a crucial instrument for connecting to our community with its cultural news, opinion, investigations and arts coverage. It is one of the most important vehicles of the commons that we have in the Iowa City area. So more is better. And it’s not just the increased volume of what LV serves so well that excites me, but the increased frequency itself. Periodicals by their nature can be one of those important time/connection markers I’ve been talking about. And with LV’s periodic appearance happening more frequently, our marks on our community can become deeper. Thanks, Little Village, for the vision and hard work to make this happen, and thanks to our community for supporting the publication so enthusiastically that it was clear you would embrace more.
Thomas Dean is not a Buddhist, and he does not meditate (well, in the formal sense of the word) or do yoga. But he is here now.