Shots of Wit

A regular posting of witticisms, aphorisms, and general musings by Clifford Cohen.

Watching a pot boil…

As I get older I find it more and more easy to watch a pot until it boils.

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Scientists have no doubt studied, in depth, that strange way we experience time when we wait intently for something to happen. Our impatience and agitation in such circumstances are undoubtedly a result of the increased and more frequent polling we do of the status of the item being watched. As of late, I find I can watch a pot come to a boil without feeling the frustration I once felt. I believe it is because I don’t mind so much anymore when the water boils. I have plenty to think about while the water “does its thing”. There seems to be a common belief that time is a universal entity that applies equally, and consistently, to all events and objects, such that there is an intrinsic dependency between one object’s experience of time and any other object’s experience of time. In the short story, Walimai, by Isabel Allende, Allende paints a different picture of how time can be experienced: the main character starts in one time continuum based upon his familiar life, then transitions to another time continuum in response to events that unfold, then transitions back to the original time continuum when the earlier events resolve. These transitions are as much a result of the psychology of the character as they are of any potential truths about time that might exist in the physical world. Not to trivialize Allende’s masterpiece of a short story and its many lessons, to extend the analogy to this aphorism, the pot is coming to a boil in its own time continuum while I watch the process in another time continuum. That separation suggests a certain autonomy for both events that must be respected. Next time you watch a pot boil, or wait expectantly for anything in life to happen, imagine that the event/process you are observing is in its own “river of time” and is independent of you. Create a parallel, personal river of time and attend to your experience in it. Then, when the time is right, rejoin the river of time that involves you both.

Note: Don’t forget to turn off the gas, or you will set the house on fire.

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