EDITORIAL: From "term", language has deduced "to end" and "to determine"...
From « term », language has deduced « to end » and « to determine », two closely related meanings: to set a limit is to define. The Romans called terminus the limits that marked a territory; they even invented a god of limits with the same name, because divine was the ability to set a measure to things. Grammar also states that in order to think, speak and communicate, one must use « terms » that have an objective definition and are capable of sustaining dialogue between humans.
The term is both a temporal and spatial expanse. It delimits a possible action and the path that implements it by assigning it a duration. Without a term, our actions no longer have a point of support, getting lost in the void of a « tomorrow » that is always starting over. Sticking to a term, knowing that it exists, is liberating: each of our tasks, far from being unlimited, will find its end which will make us available for something else. This implies a strategy: forecasting, analyzing, prioritizing, respecting the limit, but also negotiating with it… complex cognitive operations, the prerogative of a brain capable of embracing different temporalities, the short and the long, the beginning and the end.
Nevertheless, a question arises: what gives its measure to the term? A superman would surely dream that everyone could confer this power on himself, but alas, or rather fortunately, we are not the masters of time, and even if we constantly strive to set deadlines, we also face dynamics that are beyond us. Western civilization has favoured mastery, organization, anticipation and segmentation between different degrees of urgency. But these solutions, which are remarkably effective, have their fragility: they produce a permanent tension between the short and the long term, sometimes exhausting breaks in rhythm, dissonances, a loss of fluidity.
How can these disturbances be corrected in order to rediscover a harmonious space-time, where term and creative freedom do not contradict each other? Perhaps by drawing inspiration from mental universes different from those which today make the planet turn too fast. I am thinking here of the traditions of wisdom that have often powerfully reflected and experienced a human condition plunged into the river of time.
Greek wisdoms that evoked the kairos, a kind of intuitive agreement between circumstances and the project that inhabits us. It is the moment of grace when action spontaneously fits into the « right moment ». The « wise man » learns to sense it and to pick it up.
The biblical wisdom of alternation, when Ecclesiastes reminds us that there are
« a time for everything under the sky,
a time to bear children and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to pluck the plant…
a time to cry and a time to laugh…
a time to seek and a time to lose…. « .
Asian wisdoms, such as yoga, tai-chi-chuan, Qi qong. They have much to teach us. Based on the bodily experience of movement and fluidity, of relaxed immobility, of emptiness, of silence, they gradually modify the relationship to time. Regular training in the slowness of gesture, listening to the breath, states of concentration emphasizes alternative values: letting go, spontaneity, attention without tension. However, far from encouraging disengagement or decay, as is too often said, these practices could inspire new ways of reconciling immediacy and long-term vision.
by Ysé Tardan-Masquellier, Writer, Historian and Anthropologist of religions