Doug Bruns

Time traps and a touch of enlightenment.

In Curiosity, Life, The Examined Life on March 14, 2012 at 6:07 am

I recently noted this sentence in my journal: “A prison is a trap for catching time.” I lifted it from a New Yorker article, The Caging of America, by Adam Gopnik. It prompted me to think of other possible “time traps.” Here’s what I came up with, in no specific order:

  • Crossing time zones (cheating, obviously)
  • sleep
  • drugs / alcohol
  • sex
  • unconsciousness
  • day dreaming
  • death (well, duh–again obvious, presumably)
  • ignorance
  • denial
  • worry
  • boredom (can also, like prison, be turned inside out)
  • misery
  • being lost
  • grief
  • insane happiness
  • being in “the zone” *

* I found my zone only once, while rock climbing, a sport about which I used to be obsessive (no surprise there). There was a particular route I was working on but repeatedly failed. It was a sport climb, at the edge of my abilities. A sport climb has carabiners in place along the route, hanging from quick-draws. It’s not as safe as top-roping, but more so, and less technical, than trad climbing, where you place the protective gear, such as cams and wedges, as you go along. In sport climbing the climber gets to a ‘biner, clips in his (or her) rope, then proceeds to the next and so forth. Hanging on the rope is bad form. Falling is worse form, but happens frequently. In sport climbing you “work on” a route. I spent a lot of time on this route and then one Sunday morning I climbed out of the cave, where the route began, and pulled the overhang, made repeated clips and topped out. The completion of the climb found me sweating profusely, my heart pounding, but having no memory of the climb. I simply knew that I had climbed it, “sent it” in climbing parlance, without falling. I had realized an “in the zone” moment. Time had stopped and though action and movement continued, I had no recollection of the experience.

I was at the time studying zen and told my teacher, a Korean zen master, of the experience. He told me I’d had a touch of enlightenment. I remember him pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose and smiling.


I also have a list in my journal of things I know nothing (or very little) about:

  • gambling
  • golf
  • wine
  • horses
  • calculus
  • sailing
  • venn diagrams
  • and a great deal more…

I seem to recall making this list while on an airplane, airplanes being where I do a lot of successful thinking–though I would not consider this an example. Nor, for that matter, was I crossing a time zone and thereby trapping time. I was likely staring out the window, vexed over something and feeling inadequate. That is most often the case.

There are a lot of things about which I know nothing, a lot of knowledge gaps I jump over regularly. Occasionally I fall into one and twist my ankle. Why I composed this list is unknown to me–thereby completing the circle of things I find dumbfounding.

  1. i need to visit your site more often. love reading your thoughts. oh, cool, i can be notified of new posts.

  2. I don’t have a head for heights, a high ladder is sufficient to turn my stomach. However having said that I’ve sailed all over the world including single handing part of the Pacific although now I’m getting a little old for that type of exertion.
    Years ago my wife and I, in a fit of total madness, bought a small farm. We ran horses!! Coupled with other things of course…cash crop, dogs. I even had a regular job!
    Now I play golf regularly.

    So there you are……three of the things you claim you know nothing about but there are many things on your “do know” list of which I am totally ignorant.

    • Peter ~ Thanks for stopping in and reading–and commenting. I appreciate it. I salute your expertise, particularly as a sailor. Living on the water in Maine, I watch the sailors come and go and of my list of things about which I know nothing, sailing is the only thing I’d like to know something more about. Sailing as you’ve done, for instance, single-handed in the Pacific, sounds so very appealing. But like you, days of such things–like rock climbing–are now beyond me. Nonetheless, just a simple day sail in the bay, there’s something I can, perhaps will, rectify. Thanks again.

I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading.

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