Joyful violence?

16 June 2014 by Ingrid

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Can violence ever be joyful?

I tried to address this question in a piece I wrote for an online MoMA exhibit called Design and Violence. It’s not the first time I’ve written about the axes produced by Best Made Co. (see here and here), but it is the deepest I’ve gone on the subject. The axes fascinate me because of the tension they embody: they are real tools capable of violence, yet with a playful, toylike aesthetic. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

The two ends of the Best Made axe embody an unlikely tension, playing on our most primal instincts: approach and avoidance. The handle’s lollipop colors have an appetitive quality that sparks our desire; the blade’s sharp contours speak a warning to our unconscious brain. Pleasure and pain: the potential for both arises simultaneously. The Best Made axe dwells in two worlds, one joyful, one violent. Yet in each, it is a misfit.

But is possible that these two worlds can overlap? Can we imagine a space of “joyful violence” where the Best Made axe is truly at home?

You can read the full piece on the Design and Violence site, here.

The very best part of writing this piece was seeing a response from Peter Buchanan-Smith, founder of Best Made, who shared the story behind the axe’s colors:

When I first started Best Made and selling these axes no one would give me liability insurance. So I decided to attach a few of cherished virtues to the axes (courage, compassion, grace, fortitude) as a non-legal, but more emotionally binding measure of built-in liability insurance. When someone raised their Best Made axe, they had to have happy thoughts.

Aesthetics of Joy as insurance? It’s a neat thought, to use color and pattern as a way to shift mindset, to distinguish the tool for certain purposes but not for others. It’s as if to say: there are some approved uses of this tool, like chopping wood for your log cabin, that feel consistent with its design, and there are other uses, like felling a protected species of tree (or worse), that are unapproved — all through aesthetics. The colors are like an instruction manual or a warning label, but that speaks directly to our unconscious mind.

Designed to prevent violence? What a clever idea.


Hey, what’s up with Aesthetics of Joy?

This is the first post here in quite some time. If you’re a regular reader, you might be wondering where I’ve gone these last few months. Have I given up on Aesthetics of Joy? 

I hope you’ll be happy to hear that I’ve just been taking a little bit of a break from the blog to focus on the book proposal for Aesthetics of Joy. Because the blog is such a love of mine, it can be hard to focus on the slow, deep work of the book when there are so many things I want to share with you here. So, I’ve taken a little bit of a vacation from blogging while I finish up the proposal. Hopefully you’l see me back here in the fall, with a slight redesign and a *lot* of new ideas to share. In the meantime, have a beautiful summer, filled with sunshine, simple pleasures, and lots of joy. 

Till soon,

Object of affection: Aurora pots

27 February 2014 by Ingrid

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This world has its share of accidental joys. Some are large, like the roadside misadventures of a UPS truck filled with industrial printer ink. Some are small, like balloon let go by its owner, floating up towards the clouds. These momentary surprises don’t change our lives, but they can divert our attention, reminding us of the magic in the world and calling us towards joy.

Designer Phil Cuttance seems to be a keen observer of small, accidental joys. He took inspiration from the bright swirl of oil in an urban puddle to create these Aurora Pots, which imprint the fleeting effect of oil on water on a series of hand-cast pots. Cuttance describes the process of creating the unique color effects:

A single drop of polish is dropped onto water. The beautiful, and usually momentary, slick that is created is then scooped off the water’s surface and onto the pot lid; each unique slick is captured permanently.

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These pots captivated me immediately, but the design begs a question: what is the point of making our transient experiences into permanent things? As humans we have this impulse to preserve, memorialize, capture our best moments, our most joyful happenings. But should we use objects in this way?

In Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton writes about a related impulse towards possession:

Endeavoring to purchase something we think beautiful may in fact be the most unimaginative way of dealing with the longing it excites in us, just as trying to sleep with someone may be the bluntest response to a feeling of love. What we seek, at the deepest level, is inwardly to resemble, rather than physically to possess, the objects and places that touch us through their beauty.

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It seems futile and naive to try to anchor our fleeting delights in objects, to pin them down in solid form. But balanced against that is the need for objects in our lives that remind us of life’s wonders, a need to bring these wonders into a place where our joy at their colors and shapes can be renewed at regular intervals. Seen this way, the Aurora Pots do have value. They also have the virtue of subtly changing with the light, so that they continue to be new to us day after day. In that sense, they defy their solid form and may become less like objects and more like a series of experiences.

What do you think? What is the value of creating objects that capture fleeting moments? Is it worth doing, or are we better off just experiencing them in the moment, and then letting them fly by?

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Aurora Pots by Phil Cuttance available for purchase through the artist
Via: The Fox Is Black

A universal right to joy

4 February 2014 by Ingrid

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Do we have a universal right to joy?

I’ve recently had some new people come into my life who really understand Aesthetics of Joy and what I’m trying to achieve with it. And because they understand it so well, they’re able to challenge me to think about the subject in very different ways. So a couple of weeks ago, one of these new acquaintances asked me this question, and it’s had my mind humming ever since. Is there such a thing as a “universal right to joy”?

I answered “yes” immediately, purely on intuition, and since then have been thinking through why I believe this so strongly. After all, I don’t believe people have a universal right to be happy. Our Declaration of Independence grants a right to pursue happiness, but pursuit hardly guarantees achievement. In the case of happiness, pursuing it might actually chase it away. But I do feel that people have a universal right to joy.

Why joy and not happiness? Perhaps because happiness is so much more complicated than joy. The equation for happiness integrates many factors: our biological set point, our circumstances, our relationships, our habits, our sense of meaning and purpose. And because it includes so many different elements, everyone’s definition of happiness is a little bit different. It would be hard to say we are entitled to some starry alignment of all these factors, when some are in our control and others out of it, and they vary so much by individual and by the conditions of our birth, and even with scientific terminology, we’re not sure that we know what it actually means to be “happy.”

Joy, by contrast, is much simpler. We don’t have to think about it — we just feel it. We feel it in our bodies, warm and light, and we can see it in the bodies and on the faces of others. Darwin documented people and animals in states of joy, and found it easy to identify people experiencing joy by their bright eyes, smiles, and laughter, as well as their upright and open posture. Joy has a universal language, because the emotion itself is universal. We can come into a moment of joy by encountering something delightful, or we can conjure it in the mind, through memories or imagination. But we can’t fake it. And in fact research shows that we can all discern a fake smile, because the muscles that contract around our eyes in a real smile are not under our conscious control. Joy is visceral and automatic. We’re hardwired to feel it — it is a primal sense that tells us in a moment that life is good.

This the crux of the matter: the potential for joy is an intrinsic and essential part of our minds. While happiness needs to be pursued or explained, joy is already within us, ready to be stirred and released. For whatever reason, evolution found joy to be a critical mechanism for guiding us towards things that enhanced the survival of our species. Joy is the most powerful signal of our thriving, and the capacity to feel it is our birthright as humans.

So if we all have the potential for joy already within us, why does it need to be a right? Can’t we just experience it whenever we want? Are there really obstacles to joy that affect people disproportionately?

It may sound silly in the abstract, but in practice, there are obstacles to an equal right to joy. I’m thinking of the fact that joy can tend to be viewed as a luxury, not a necessity. I’ve often heard joy dismissed as extraneous, something high up on Maslow’s hierarchy that should be considered only after more basic needs like shelter and security are met. But this argument completely misinterprets the emotions and why we have them. Even in dire physical circumstances, people seek out moments of beauty and delight. And this is not an irrational impulse, because these moments provide respite from hardship and offer hope of a better future. Joy reminds us we are human, and gives us something to live for.

The rise of “favela painting,” which brings color and vibrancy to slums and other areas ground down by poverty, is physical expression of this idea. The artists Haas & Hahn (Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn) recently raised over $100,000 on Kickstarter to paint an entire village in Brazil. (The images above and below are sketches of what this could look like.) The intention is that aesthetics can spark some joy, along with pride of place and hope, inspiring broader changes that affect baseline quality of life. As they say:

Visual beautification, job creation and positive attention boost pride and self esteem and help bridge social gaps in a creative and artful manner. The projects create a voice for the inhabitants, influence public opinion and media, and can help to change perception and remove stigma.

What devotees of Maslow’s hierarchy fail to realize is the subtle relationships between the levels. We don’t move up the pyramid in a linear way. In fact, meeting needs higher on the pyramid can inspire someone to apply their energies towards better satisfaction of more basic needs. Joy is not just a result of something positive; it is often also a propulsive force towards more positivity in the world.

As I was close to finishing this post, I came across a piece in the NYT called “Let the Poor Have Fun” that talks about this same phenomenon, of believing joy to be a frivolous extra, as it relates to the adoption of technology. As the author, Manu Joseph, writes:

Too many people presume that what the poor want from the Internet are the crucial necessities of life. In reality, the enchantment of the Internet is that it’s a lot of fun. And fun, even in poor countries, is a profound human need. Quality of life is as much an assortment of happy frivolities as it is the bare essentials of survival. And India is a perpetual reminder that a lot of good — even the somber sociological stuff — can come from people setting out in pursuit of joy.

What the poor want from a technological revolution is probably best understood by watching the way they react to electricity. They do not crave electricity so they can keep newborns warm in incubators. They want it for the simple pleasure.

It seems demeaning to suggest that while the rich are entitled to use technology for our delight, the poor must first cover their necessities before they can experience joy. And it reveals a complete misunderstanding of human nature — a failure to see that enchantment is so often the force that promotes exploration, harmony, and creativity in our lives, rather than the other way around.

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The threat to joy is not an obvious one. It’s one that deprives by denigrating — by advancing a belief that joy is not important to our survival, and therefore not essential for all. But if we can say we have universal rights to life and liberty, to health and safety, and that these are worth fighting for, then I also think we need to consider a universal right to joy. Without joy, none of those other rights mean much, for what is the value of a joyless life? We do not have to be happy all the time, nor should we be. But a life without joyful moments is not much of a life at all. If we have a right to be alive, that must mean we have a right to do more than merely exist. And joy is, I believe, at the core of what transforms existing into living.

In a world where joy is a right, there are policy and design implications. Measures of wellbeing would not be sufficient if they only considered physical health and ignore mental states. Charities might aim not just to alleviate physical suffering, but to bring comfort through music, beauty, and humor. We might recognize that the greyness of inner city areas is an issue of equity, just like cramped living quarters and lack of access to fresh food. In short, we might imagine a world in which we choose to propagate joy, rather than constrain it.

Do you think there is a universal right to joy? And if so, what could it mean for the world?

Object of affection: Bubble lights

31 January 2014 by Ingrid

Big Bubble by Alex de Witte LR

Who doesn’t love a giant bubble? Floating, transparent, ethereal: these lights from Dutch designer Alex de Witte bring the joy of bubbles inside in a beautiful yet playful way. To live with something that feels so impermanent but captured in a durable material must be a daily delight.

I even like the treatment of the cord, as a freewheeling, curvy line. Of course, it would be even better if the lights could float, cordless, in space. But until that future technology arrives, the curvy cord feels right on.

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For more giant bubbles, check out these slow mo beauties.

Images: Alex de Witte
Via: April and May 

{simple pleasures} Riding the breath

27 January 2014 by Ingrid


I’m new to this meditation thing. I first tried it last year, and though I saw the benefits really clearly, I struggled with it. I didn’t really know what I was supposed to be doing, and so I dreaded getting into it, and I had trouble with the breathing and the sitting.

Now, I’m trying again with a little bit more support. I spent a good part of last fall working with a Hellerworker, (an excellent experience, if anyone out there is considering it) and as a result my breathing is much calmer and I’ve found a posture I can sit in comfortably. I’m also working my way through Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness, which offers a 28-day program for easing into meditation. She gives very clear directions for the meditations which helps with the “I must not be doing it right” problem.

Breakthroughs come in the smallest of moments, and when they do it is a special, private kind of joy. Last week, my mind was restless the entire meditation until the last minute. And then, all of a sudden I tuned into my breath, calmly rising and falling, like ocean waves. It was like being in the ocean, buoyant — I didn’t have to do anything, I could just float on the beautiful sine wave that was moving through me. I don’t always find that spot, but I know it’s there now, and just the possibility of it makes meditation a very simple pleasure.

If you’re thinking about trying meditation and you want a very simple technique, this one from Salzberg’s book really resonates with me: Sit comfortably, and follow the breath. As things arise, which they inevitably will, you can divide them into “breath” and “not breath.” This helped me so much because it made it ok to have “not breath” thoughts, and stopped me from judging myself for getting distracted. Then it’s easier to let go of them and come back to “breath.”

Have any of you ever felt that “riding the waves” feeling I’m talking about? Curious to hear from other meditators — veteran or newbie — about your experiences…

Image: mine, from our recent trip to Hawaii (more on that soon)

{simple pleasures} Sand-sliding

15 December 2013 by Ingrid

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It’s often the simplest things that bring us the most joy. I collect tons of examples of small pleasures but sometimes hesitate to post them because I feel like I should always have something profound to say about them. More and more, I’m starting to catch on to the idea that I don’t have to have all the answers, and that maybe the joy is in the finding of things, and experiencing them together.

So here’s to simple pleasures, like sliding on soft sand. If you watch children (and many adults) at beaches, they will often head straight for the dunes. There’s an intuitive attraction to that wonderful feeling of slip-sliding gently down the slope, feeling the sand give way under you, and its silky quality as it runs through your fingers. But given the threat of erosion on the dunes, this simple pleasure is no longer an innocent one. So it was nice to see this photo by Roberto Tovar of Formlessfinder’s installation for Design Miami, which created a 500-ton pyramid of sand at the entrance. And even nicer to see it in use!

Via 01 Magazine


Good enough to eat

10 December 2013 by Ingrid

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Have you ever heard someone use the phrase, “looks good enough to eat”? A well-worn platitude of doting grandmas, it’s easy to dismiss as a banal cliché. But not so fast! The phrase actually reveals something interesting about how we engage with things we find beautiful.

Recently a dear reader sent me a link to the work of Adam Nathaniel Furman, who has been a Designer in Residence at the Design Museum in London this past year. I haven’t made up my mind about the work yet, but I was struck by Furman’s words in a post on his project Identity Parade. He writes:

As far as I’m concerned there’s no point in making anything that won’t make you want to eat it just by looking at it. Beauty is great and everything, but I don’t think that anything can beat something that is totally irresistible, stuff that is so completely luscious you just want to shove as much of it in your mouth as you possibly can, or lick it like mad like it’s a huge, ice cold, five scoop strawberry ice bonanza.

Furman’s exuberant statement of intent challenges a detached, intellectual notion of beauty. For him, it’s all about the body, and a desire so deep it is essentially indistinguishable from hunger. And that is what it means to say an object “looks good enough to eat” — it is an expression of the primal connection between nourishment and aesthetic appeal.

After all, we eat first with our eyes. If we didn’t, we likely wouldn’t eat at all. While we may use all our senses in the enjoyment of food, the procurement of food is visual. We don’t hear fruit ripening, and we can’t touch it or taste it until we’ve gotten close to it. For our ancestors, the visual sense was first and foremost in scanning, finding, and determining the edible status of food. Things had to look good enough to eat before they could be eaten.

Our appreciation of beauty builds on these appetitive systems. As Paul Bloom points out in How Pleasure Works, the pleasure we take in art for its own sake travels down pathways that were etched for more primitive purposes: nourishment, mating, survival.

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When we flatter ourselves highly evolved beings, we like to separate our joys from those of animals. This often leads to a deprecation of the carnal. Delicious and sensual equate to sinful or unsophisticated. Here’s Furman talking about his sculptures:

That’s what I want to see from the things that emerge from my kiln. Armies of them, phalanxes of indescribably appetizing, delicately lustful, bright, yummy, scrumptious, gorgeous soldiers. Rank upon rank upon rank standing naughtily to attention. My very own Terracotta army fighting in perpetuity, not for beauty, not for my memory, but for deliciousness, delight, titillation and desire.

Even as he embraces the carnality of his work, he explicitly accepts the notion that this is “naughty.” I’d love us to reclaim pleasure from the realm of judgment, and it may help to remind ourselves that even our most high-minded pleasures have roots in the processes that keep our bodies and our species alive. Beauty is not opposed to “deliciousness, delight, titillation, and desire.” Without them, beauty would not exist at all.

Link: Adam Nathaniel Furman
Via: @schmidty_kitty

Hum and flutter

27 October 2013 by Ingrid


If you’re in upstate NY anytime in the near future, I highly recommend checking out a show of Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson’s incredible work at the Tang Museum in Saratoga Springs.

I first posted Hildur’s work a few years ago, and since then, I’ve had the good fortune to meet her in her native Iceland and get to know her and her family. What began as a brief hello at the Hafnarhus museum in Reykjavik turned into a serendipitous New Year’s Eve dinner party and a new friend. It’s a delight when someone who inspires you turns out to be as warm and beautiful in spirit as they are in their work, and such was my luck in meeting Hildur.

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I was first drawn to Hildur’s work for its ethereal textures and colors, and the way that they made me feel a joyous sense of lightness. Her work is inspired by the light and terrain of Iceland, an extraordinary landscape that is so extreme and so striking that a majority of Icelanders believe it shelters elves. You might fault their logic until you visit, and realize that in the face of pink skies, milky volcanic lagoons, greenish auroras, and steaming rocks in snow-covered fields, you might be hard-pressed to find another explanation for all that magic.

Speaking about her work, Hildur explains that her goal is to capture the energy of that landscape, the feeling she felt when she originally experienced it. It’s a palpable energy, but not an easy one to pin down. The whole island simmers. Even in the dead of winter, under three feet of snow, the fields pulse with their geological charge. The glaciers sparkle on the mountains, making their slow moves, and the volcanoes purr, waiting for an opportune moment to blanket Europe with ash. The spongy mosses and lichen, and even the most inanimate mineralia seem to hum and flutter, invigorated by a proximity to so much lava. Quiet but powerful, it is easy to sense and hard to describe.

While Hildur’s paintings look soft and gentle, they too have an energy that animates them. The source of this dynamism is the unique process she uses, which introduces natural variation and movement into each piece. Rather than painting on a canvas or finished piece of cloth, Hildur paints just the weft fibers before threading them into a loom and weaving them. The interaction between the painted weft and the raw warp shifts the composition unpredictably, so that each feathery contour bears the residue of the forces that made it. Many of the shapes feel as if they’re still in motion, creeping imperceptibly across the surface, like a plume of steam or cloud making its way through the sky.

This animated stillness touches close to the very heart of what it means to feel joy. For the root of joy is energy itself, the vivifying force that lets us breathe, walk, run, paint, and dance. Where there is energy there is movement, and where there is movement usually there is life, which we are hardwired to seek out and savor. We are attuned to the smallest signs of vitality, the shifting and scurrying and shimmering of flora and fauna, water and light, that tell us a landscape will embrace us, and that it contains delights in multitudes. Hildur’s work speaks to me of those multitudes, of energies ancient and emergent. Held in balance by the warp and weft, they are present yet timeless, small joys that unfold again and again across the surface of her cloth.


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Hildur studio

Opener 25 Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson at the Tang Museum until December 29, 2013

Images: The Tang Museum

Rainbow falls

6 October 2013 by Ingrid

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I’ve never been to Niagara Falls, but I’ve heard it can bring out intense reactions of wonder and awe. In 1842 Charles Dickens described his experience in such terms:

I was in a manner stunned, and unable to comprehend the vastness of the scene. It was not until I came on Table Rock, and looked — Great Heaven, one what a fall of bright-green water! — that it came upon me in its full might and majesty…. Then, when I felt how near to my Creator I was standing, the first effect, an the enduring one — instant and lasting — of the tremendous spectacle, was Peace. Peace of Mind: Tranquility: Calm recollections of the Dead: Great Thoughts of Eternal Rest and Happiness: nothing of Gloom or Terror. Niagara was at once stamped upon my heart, an Image of Beauty; to remain there, changeless and indelible, until its pulses cease to beat, for ever.

It sounds counterintuitive that something powerful, even intimidating, can cause such a sense of peace. Can we really be stunned into happiness? But this is transcendence, a particular kind of joyful feeling that comes from shifts in perspective: elevation, proportion distortion, or extremes of scale. These encounters pull us out of our established reality, causing a rapid zooming out, an understanding of the context we exist within, and often a sense of belonging and interconnectedness.

As AoJ reader Greg Whincup once pointed out in a comment on this blog, Albert Einstein described exactly this feeling on looking up at the night sky: “One feels as though melting into nature. One feels the insignificance of the individual even more strongly, and is happy about it.”

At first it seems odd that “feeling insignificant” is a positive thing. But in fact, joy is often a feeling of self-transcendence, where the ego gets out of the way of the emotion, where ”I” gives way to “we,” and we discover delight in unity and belonging. In this sense, joy is less something we feel; more, it’s something we become when we move beyond ourselves.

These colors on the falls, superimposed by floodlights, add another layer to an image that we might become numb to with regular exposure, renewing the sense of wonder.

Image: Shot by Joseph Paxton Blair III in1956, from National Geographic Found, celebrating 125 years of National Geographic.

Charles Dickens quote from Brilliant by Jane Brox.

The joy of living in the present

14 September 2013 by Ingrid

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It’s been about ten years since I gave up my watch. Through college, I was a devoted watch-wearer, and I often checked the time compulsively. Sometimes, I would even look at my watch and then seconds later realize that I hadn’t even registered the time, so I’d have to look again. I was stressing out about the time while not even aware of what time it actually was.

Then my watch broke, and my cousin suggested I try life without it. She had given up her watch and said she didn’t miss it. For awhile, I felt naked. But it didn’t take long to adjust, and after I did, I noticed an interesting effect: going without a watch actually made me more aware of the time. Without thinking about it, I took note of environmental cues — the light, color, and temperature — and of the way time was passing, giving me an unconscious sense of the time of day. I’ve honed this ability by checking myself against the clock so that now my guess is often within 10 minutes of the time even if I haven’t looked at a clock all day.

This ability made me feel like I had a great awareness of time, but recently I had an experience that changed my perception of time yet again. A couple of months ago, I started a meditation practice. It began with five minutes here and there, snatched out of the morning rush of a busy day. Then, while on vacation this summer, I meditated for ten minutes a day. It doesn’t sound like much, but those ten minutes felt endless to me. On good days, where I found a clear mind, the ten minutes felt like a beautiful expanse. On bad days, it was an endless torture; my mind was like a hyperactive child for whom a minute of sitting still felt like an hour.

But good or bad, meditation had the same effect: time was expanding. And suddenly I realized how quickly time races away from me when my mind is focused on the future. Like many ambitious people, thinking about what’s next is a default state for me. I’m always thinking about an upcoming meeting or task. Planning, that great unique ability of the human prefrontal cortex, consumes a lot of my bandwidth. The completion of one thing is barely savored before moving on to the next one. My to do list and my calendar, both tools for managing and structuring the future, are tools I live by. This isn’t always negative: sometimes I’m looking forward with anticipation to a vacation, a wonderful dinner, or a quiet moment to relax at home. But it’s still a focus on the future, and in my experience, it makes time seem to go faster. In that state of mind, there’s never enough time to do everything I want to do. The now doesn’t exist, because it is constantly subsumed by the next.

And yet, when I meditate, time is ample. It’s voluptuous. I can luxuriate in time.

Of course the idea that time expands and contracts is nothing new. People say things like, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” And research now shows that time seems to move faster when you’re older (each moment is a smaller fraction against the whole of your life than it is when you’re young) and time can almost stop for people in a moment of trauma or crisis. I knew that time had this elasticity, but I’d never felt it quite so powerfully. Nor had I ever felt that I was in a position to control it.

In his book Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, media theorist Douglas Rushkoff talks about how the ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos and kairos. Chronos is clock time. It moves sequentially. It ticks off in even increments: seconds, minutes, hours, months, years. Kairos is about moments — strictly speaking, moments of opportunity — and there is no clock for kairos. It is felt time, rather than counted time.

So after I got rid of my watch, I did get better at understanding time: chronological time. I became attuned to the tick, tock, tick of the time moving throughout the day, and this was valuable because it meant I was no longer chained to time-counters — I did my own counting. But I was still counting. Meditation is now bringing a new awareness, an understanding of kairos, into my life. These meditations have reminded me just how much can be accomplished in ten minutes: a note to a friend to let them know I’m thinking about them, a bit of exercise, or a small dose of writing. There are opportune moments all around, and they reveal themselves by my being present.

I struggle with being present. Especially when a moment is challenging, it’s tempting to want to rush into the future. And when there’s so much you want to create and do in life, it’s hard not to think about that great, looming list. But recently I read an excerpt of a book on meditation which helped me understand it a bit better. The book talked about two kinds of energy: motivated energy and unmotivated energy. Motivated energy drives towards the future, and this energy is important because it promotes our survival, helps us learn and grow, and ultimately spurs us to achieve great things. Without motivated energy we wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning, let alone go to work or school, find food, pursue a mate, raise children, or any of the other things that make our lives worth living. A species without motivated energy wouldn’t last long.

But to live one hundred percent in motivated energy is exhausting, and to the point of this blog, leaves little room for joy. The value of unmotivated energy is celebration of the present moment. It is reward, idleness, contemplation, meditation, play. It is truly present, with no directional thrust. And it’s pure joy.

We have much more control over time than we think. First, we can choose to emphasize our kairos over our chronos, our human time over our counted time. And second, we can choose how we live in time. We can be deliberate about when we look towards the future with motivated energy. By being present and aware in those moments, hopefully we can also give ourselves permission to be equally present in our joyful, “unmotivated” moments, without guilt or pressure. We can resist the temptation to try to make every moment “useful.” We can cultivate unmotivated energy, just the right amount, as a ballast for all that time rushing by, to be wonderfully aware of the beautiful now.

And if perhaps we need tools for tuning into our unmotivated time, this silly clock could be one. Designed by Louie Rigano, the About-Time Clock recently won a competition by for new designers. So perhaps I’m not the only one feeling the desire for a new relationship to time.

When it comes to telling you the time, the About-Time seems close to useless. But if you want a reminder to stop looking at the clock and start smelling the roses, I think it’s a good one.

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Images: Louie Rigano