Observations come to you at strangely random moments.  My daughter and I were having a late breakfast last weekend at the local hangout.  In a seat well situated to observe the entrance, I was watching people come and go.  The room was filled with people of every variety, young college-aged adults, middled-aged folks like me, a few elderly diners, some couples with young children.  My view in the restaurant formed a snap shot of life in these times in my country.  Then I realized something about my koi, and it came to me like a friendly punch in the arm. 

I realized that we are moving through time as through a fluid, like fish swimming in a stream.  C.S. Lewis had written somewhere that we are creatures of time as certainly as a fish is a creature of water, and that we can no more exist without time than the fish can exist without the water.  Time is the medium through which we live and move.

Our stream rushes along with a powerful current that pushes us always forward.  In regard to the physical laws of nature, we move in one direction only.  The arrow of time goes only toward the future.  We cannot swim against this current which is far too strong to outmaster.  And yet, and yet – the mind works in a most puzzlingly different fashion.  In thought we travel back and forth, we flit from thing to thing.  We wander back into the past;  we leap-frog past now into various imagined futures, we come back to now but stay hardly as long as a bee hovers over a flower before we are bouncing off to some other temporal setting of imagination.  It’s actually a rather hard job to keep oneself anchored in the present.  Mystics study for years in arduous discipline in hopes of mastering the task of holding onto a little bit of “now”.

We swim all over as very feckless and curious fish.  Rare the moment when the mind is still, not even yearning for the future along the arrow of time, not aiming at all times and places that catch our fancies.  Truly, like the koi, we are restless swimmers.


Some Gibbs’s Rules for Artists

I have tried to watch my own thinking and to analyze how I learn.  And I made myself a short list of “Gibbs’s Rules.”   I found: 

1) That I sometimes encounter a certain moment of discouragement when the whole thing looks like a mess, seems hopelessly off course, through and beyond this moment I must press on.

2) I recognize that problems are overcome almost unconsciously or invisibly, that in pressing on you must sometimes do so blindly.

3)  That you follow an instinct (and that instinct exists). 

4) That in general it’s better to take your bearings from great predecessors, whose works you look at and consciously imitate than from your peers because the past is bigger than the present.

5) That no one can hold your hand.  To recognize what counts;  you must somehow recognize for yourself what is good. You must turn toward and learn to understand your own sensibilities. The first artists’ material at hand is not the pencil, not the paper, but is instead your own mind.  There are things that you know without knowing how you know them.  The inner compass follows some kind of inborn magnetic field for, as Rembrandt demonstrated, the artist is a part of nature.

[Above:  Rembrandt’s etching “The Three Trees.”  On the far right you can see the little artist on the hill, “studying nature.”]