“Forever is composed of nows.” - Emily Dickinson
If the saying, “Time heals all wounds,” is true, aging should return all of us to states of near perfect mental and emotional fitness. That this is not the case, and instead many of us feel that with every passing year come new wounds, means one of two things, someone lied to us, or, time has a strange way of healing. There is a third possibility— perhaps time does heal old wounds but it also opens new ones and the not-so-merry-go-round of life is to restore and re-injure.
As someone who professionally joins others on their recycled journeys from suffering to salvation, and has watched his own wheel of misfortune spin round and round, I have come up with my own version of this mantra. While I’m fairly certain it will not be showing up on coffee mugs or inspirational posters any time soon, here it is:
Time heals nothing.
I’ll let that sink in for a moment while I take a sip from my coffee cup.
The primary problem with the, “Time as magic healer,” mentality is that is makes many people think that feeling better is something that will come in the future. This leaves a lot of suffering souls waiting and wanting. There is some wisdom in this if the person chooses to move on with life without feeling the need to make something happen. This however is not a strength that many of us like to develop. The prayer, “Give me patience and give it to me now,” speaks to our true feelings about waiting for time to do its thing.
Add to this the dilemma faced when time passes and healing has not taken place. Why is that? Was it done incorrectly? Did someone Higher Power find one unworthy of healing? Or, maybe it’s just around the corner— one more day, week, or year away.
So what is it that heals? How do today’s scratches and scrapes become tomorrow’s new skin? What I’ve noticed over the last thirty years of watching the healing process in action is that it’s one’s attitude that makes the difference. Sometimes referred to as a “new perspective,” “seeing the big picture,” or simply “getting it,” the common factor is a shift in the way one sees whatever, or whoever, brought the pain.
This is not the same as positive thinking, which has recently garnered some ironic negative press. (A great book on the subject is The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.) This is about a deeper movement away from habitual resistance, and toward the acceptance that pain and pleasure are the warp and woof of life. (For those non-knitting folks out there, this represents the threads that run lengthwise and across a woven fabric, and one of my personal favorite metaphors.)
The reason time gets all the credit is that for most of us this shift does not happen right away. For some it never happens as body and mind recoil against the hurt and remain in a permanent state of resistance, giving way to the resignation that “Life sucks and then you die.” Happily, for most people, the passing of days, weeks, months, or years brings about a softer view of what happened and surrounds it with space. Think of stepping away from having one’s nose pressed to the TV screen, where everyone dancing with the stars looks like tiny dots, to see the full glory of some aging actor trying to keep up with some young, nubile, professional busting moves instead of hips.
Giving credit to the abstract concept of time unnecessarily robs us of an even deeper truth. Even healing, as we understand it, happens only on the surface of our lives. At the core of our being is the undamaged whole that is our true nature; the well from which all healing power is drawn. Imagine if we were able to identify with that source. What miracles of restoration would be available to us?
The poet Rumi wrote, “Come out of the circle of time and into the circle of love.” The modern reflexive response to such a simple and profound request is, “When am I going to find time for that?” This gives way to the lament, “If only I had more time.” The question arises, “More time for what?” The answer, of course, is to add more time. The aging mind takes this as a promise of better (you guessed it) times, and feels soothed for the moment. Then it wakes you up in a cold sweat, in the middle of the night, with the panicked thought, “I’m running out of time.”