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Living in Season Newsletter

Living in Season
The official newsletter of the School of the Seasons
Volume 1, number 16
October 21, 2003, Orionids


  • Welcome
  • Living in Season: Take Back Your Time Dayl
  • Current Offerings: Halloween Packet
  • Copyright
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Welcome to my periodical newsletter featuring ideas for bringing the beauty of the current season into your life. And a special welcome to the many new subscribers from Beliefnet. Please forward this newsletter if you enjoy it.

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Living in Season: Take Back Your Time Day
At a recent writing conference, I was pitching my book, Living in Season, to an editor for a New York publishing company.

"It's about living in rhythm with natural time," I said. She looked puzzled. "Is it a time management book?" I shuddered, thinking of the book that shifted my thinking about time, Jeremy Rifkin's Time Wars in which he points out that we treat time just like we treat the earth, as a resource
to be managed and exploited.

"Not at all," I said. "This is the opposite."

"Then I don't understand what problem you're solving," she replied.

"Maybe that people are too busy," I suggested.

She dismissed that with a wave of her hand. "That's not a problem!"

I was surprised to learn that people in New York apparently don't experience the time scarcity that afflicts all my friends in the Northwest (and actually I know this isn't true since I frequently read articles in the Sunday New York Times (my weekly glimpse into life as it's lived in New York) about overscheduling).

Still I think this editor's dismissal of my topic is pretty typical of the way people deal with time. It's so intangible, an abstract concept, that is all around us but we can't touch or feel it, yet it's the river in which we swim.

That's why I love the way the organizers of Take Back Your Time Day (October 24) have focused on issues that Americans can touch and feel: vacation days and work hours. Americans work on average nine weeks more than our European counterparts, which means that if we all stopped working on October 24, the date chosen for Take Back Your Time day, and didn't resume until January 1st, we'd catch up. Despite all our time-saving devices (remember when computers were going to help us save time?), Americans work more hours than ever before. And this trend coincides with other disturbing trends like the fact that American kids now spend half the time outside they did in 1980.

In earlier times, our lives were oriented around the rhythms of the earth. Hunters and gatherers responded to the movements of the animals they hunted and the growth cycle of the plants they harvested. Despite our beliefs about the difficulty of this lifestyle, modern hunter-gatherers work an average of two hours a day taking care of their survival needs. The rest of their time is spent in creating art (telling stories, carving wood, singing) and socializing.

As the nature of work changed, so did our relationship to time. A hunter-gatherer only gathers enough food to get through the next day. A farmer, on the other hand, plans ahead. The seed must be planted at a certain time of the year to flourish. Yet once the seed is planted, the task is done. Plants can't be hurried. Most humans, lived of necessity, in harmony with the seasons. Even activities like trade, because it was dependent on ship travel, were seasonal. Until the invention of canned food, wars were fought in the summer, because that was the only time an army of hungry men could be fed off the bounty of the land.

The Industrial Revolution inaugurated a new kind of work and a new relationship to time. No longer tied to the natural cycle, or the cycle of day and night once electricity was invented, workers could produce goods around the clock. Only laws prohibiting the exploitation of workers limited working hours to the arbitrary number of eight, a number still applied, as if it were magical to workers in fields as diverse as retail sales and the service industry. And then we got computers, which permit us to bank, shop, work and socialize 24/7. Our relationship to the natural world is totally lost in the process.

Jeremy Rikin writes:

It is ironic that in a culture which is committed to saving time we feel increasingly deprived of the very thing we value. The modern world of streamlined transportation, instantaneous communication, and time-saving technologies was supposed to free us from the dictates of the clock and provide us with increased leisure. Instead there never seems to be enough time.

We've been seduced by many myths about time. Just as we bought the spatial myth that "bigger is better," we have been trained to believe the temporal myth that "faster is better." We are strung along with the promise that if we work hard now, we'll be able to enjoy leisure time in the future. With linear metaphors like "climbing the ladder," we've been taught that life is an ascent, a process of constant improvement, in which depression, unemployment and recession are temporary problems to be resolved, when the cyclic metaphor of the seasons suggests that maybe we need time to retreat, to rest and to conserve.

Jeremy Rifkin calls people who challenge the cultural paradigms about time, "time heretics." There are many of us. We are the sort of people who aspire to a simpler and slower life, who are willing to give up income for the luxury of time. Some of us work part-time. Some of us home-school our children, preferring to let them learn at the pace of life rather than in the artificial environment of the schools. Some of us connect with the place we live by gardening or by supporting local businesses and buying local produce. We enjoy establishing new holiday traditions and reviving old ones.

Once I became a time heretic, I found a use for my passion for seasonal holidays as an advocate for a return to seasonal time. I developed a correspondence course, a book and more recently the website and holiday packets as a way to share this passion with others. I love the way living in season connects me to the natural world around me, I love the slower rhythm it provides for my life. And I love the notion of the circle which is the spiritual center of seasonal time. It complements my various spiritual leanings: my Catholic nature which finds meaning in patterns, my pagan self which likes to play with herbs and colors and other sensory symbols, and my Buddhist side which believes everything changes. Always, of course, the goal is to live in the present moment, for that is what living in season requires us to do.

Here's one of my favorite quotes about time from one of my favorite books, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle (and if you only know this story from the saccharine animated movie, you owe it to yourself to read the book — it's lyrical and witty):

When I was alive, I believed — as you do — that time was at least as real and solid as myself, and probably more so. I said "one o'clock" as though I could see it, and "Monday" as though I could find it on the map; and I let myself be hurried along from minute to minute, day to day, year to year, as though I were actually moving from one place to another. Like everyone else, I lived in a house bricked up with seconds and minutes, weekends and New Year's Days, and I never went outside until I died, because there was no other door. Now I know that I could have walked through the walls.

Beagle, Peter S., The Last Unicorn
Fitzgerald, Waverly, School of the Seasons, www.schooloftheseasons.com/store.html
Take Back Your Time Day, www.timeday.org

In the Library: My Favorite Books on Time
I've read a lot of books on time, but I haven't found many that I like. Time tends to be a slippery topic, and many books that contain good ideas (like Richard Carlson & Joseph Bailey's Slowing Down to the Speed of Life or Dr. Stephan Rechtschaffen's Time Shifting) seem rather simplistic while other more philosophical books (like Jacob Needleman's Time and the Soul or Robert Grudin's Time and The Art of Living) I find unbearably dry. Here are some I do recommend, pretty much in the order I read them:

Rifkin, Jeremy, Time Wars, Holt & Company 1987
One of the pivotal books of my life. Although it's twenty years old now, I think the paradigm shift at the heart of the book is still a radical concept for most Americans.

Servan-Schreiber, Louis, The Art of Time, Pearson, Addison & Wesley 1989
This precious little book is out of print but well worth checking out from your library. This was one of the first books I read that gave me practical ways to change my personal beliefs and habits around time, and I love his writing style-understated and lyrical. He points out that "often we act as though it is legitimate to take time for ourselves only when we have satisfied the demands of others-in other words, never." That single statement encouraged me to shift my writing time to the first thing in the morning, instead of putting it off until last when it never got done since there were always more pressing demands on my time.

Dominguez, Joe & Vicki Robin, Your Money or Your Life, Viking 1992
Although ostensibly about money, this book is really about time. The authors make the point that when we work we exchange our life energy for money. The question is: how do we value that life energy? Filled with exercises to help you answer that question and transform your life so that you can spend your time doing the things you love.

Easwaran, Eknath, Take Your Time: Finding Balance in a Hurried World, Hyperion 1997.
Another good book on the benefits of slowing down with practical suggestions (including an 8 step plan) from a teacher of meditation.

Muller, Wayne, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal & Delight in Our Busy Lives Bantam 2000
This book extols the virtues of time off, whether it comes in the form of the Jewish ritual of lighting Sabbath candles on Friday night, or in other activities that encourage us to slow down and enjoy the sensual pleasures of life. Short, inspiring and beautifully-written essays followed by practical suggestions.

Griffiths, Jay, A Sideways Look at Time, Tarcher 1999.
I'm incredibly jealous of Griffiths because my favorite publisher published her book and rejected mine and because she lives in Wales. Nonetheless, if you want an encyclopedic and juicy romp through concepts of time, this is the book for you, especially if you like Diane Ackerman (Griffiths has the same breezy, witty style). She also has the right attitude about the value of creative time, holiday time, women's time, etc.

De Graaf, John, ed. Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America, Berrett-Koehler 2003.
I haven't actually read this book — a collection of essays by various experts including economists, activists, doctors, clergy, etc. — I've just glanced through it. My first impression is that most of the essays focus on identifying the problems rather than solving them. Also that the emphasis is on practical, political and economic consequences while I'm more interested in personal and spiritual responses, but I do think it offers a panoramic view of the issues and the essay on the sabbath is written by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, one of my favorite writers on seasonal holidays.

Current Offerings: Winter Correspondence Course
In the School of the Seasons, winter is rapidly approaching, since I use the old British reckoning of the seasons in which winter begins on November 1st, with Samhain. If you're interested in signing up for the Winter correspondence course, order now to get your materials before Winter begins. Visit our Store to order.

Current Offerings: Halloween Packet
It's time to order you Halloween packet if you want to receive it in time for planning your celebration of Samhain, Halloween or Days of the Dead. This illustrated, 40+ page portfolio includes:

A panoramic review of how Days of the Dead has been celebrated, including Guy Fawkes, I Morti, All Souls, Samhain & Martinmas

  • How this holiday evolved-a history of our alienation from the ancestors
  • The last of the autumnal transformation mysteries: making cider
  • Divinations for this particular crack between the worlds
  • Recipes for traditional foods like dead man's bones, sugar skulls, bread of the dead and soul cakes
  • Instructions for making skulls, masks and turnip lanterns
  • And much more.

$9 plus $2 shipping and handling. Please allow ten days for delivery. An email version is also available for $8. It will be sent as an attached Word file within three days of receiving your order. You can order through our store.

Copyright ©Waverly Fitzgerald 2003.
All rights reserved. You may reprint material from Living in Season in other electronic or print publications as long as you credit me and provide a link to: http://www.schooloftheseasons.com. Please send me a copy of the publication.

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