A meditation on time, the ‘great illusion’

Time is at its most beautiful when you’re spending it in the arms of your special person, or lying on your back, on the grass or sand, early in the evening watching the stars twinkle into being as you whisper sweet nothings into the ears of your loved one — your fingers interlocked.

Relativity: For observers, this kiss may have lasted 20 seconds. For the lovers, it might have felt like a day.

At those times, the hand of the clock may tick a wee bit faster as if rushing to deprive you of the moment’s bliss — or to make it memorable precisely for its fleetingness. At others, it winks at you, skips a second or two between tick-tocks and with that simple effortless gesture restores your faith in heaven, earth and everything in between.

In good times, you’re seemingly whisked away to a different dimension where the newtonian laws of physics don’t apply — and they don’t! It’s at those very moments that you’re willing to swear -in court as a primary witness if need be- that time can never be absolute. It’s completely, and utterly and deliciously relative, you’d say, wearing a wide sheepish grin on your face.

When you’re hearing bad news, time behaves differently and the three dimensions of space may disappear. You become time. You’re the moment. A point or a straight line extending into eternity — depending on how your mind reacts to bereavement. In this case, time is also relative. It always is, was, always will be in that moment.

Memory, not just the clock, plays with that relativity, stretching into ages time during recollection, or condensing and fuzzing it into non-existence as it wears off. Dreams have this talent, making a few seconds of REM sleep last a century in our heads.

It’s so playful, Time, that you almost feel that you can manipulate it yourself, that you can make it stop, or perhaps you may one day find a way to rewind it. In times of regret, when you feel you’re willing to give away your left arm to undo a past mistake … or say a word … or unsay it, this feeling is most profound.

Our experience of time renders it the most magical of all elements that govern our existence.

Modern physics tells us that directions in time, forward and backward, are treated by the same laws. However, the arrow of time mysteriously keeps moving in one direction, forward, as you may have observed. I was recently reading a book by physicist and mathematician Brian Greene, called the Fabric of the Cosmos, which explored in part this question and showcased theories explaining the ‘one-way arrow of experiential time.’ Some of those theories I understood and others have taught me that perhaps at 29 I’m too old to re-learn physics. Nevertheless, the puzzling nature of time has sent my mind wandering.

Time: Does it sometimes bend over backwards to please?

Can we erase the past? Or at least can we reshape it -repaint it if you will- as we do with the future. Well, the Quantum eraser experiment hints at it, albeit subtly. How? In layman’s terms — which quite honestly are the only terms I fully grasp– this can be done by doing the closest thing to eliminating the past: erasing its impact on the present.

If we –like Scully and Druhl of this experiment– find a way to make the history leading to where we are, now, at this point in time, unknowable or say irrelevant (that no one version of history leading to this point can be singled out), then the path that led us here becomes one of many potentialities, and those can be erased. In turn, as humans we can focus more on the present moment, because this is what’s existent now, and move on.

Am I being painfully philosophical? Of course! We all know, this is not how memory works. But for a second, if we pretend we are photons fired at slits, it may work. Minds can be manipulated too. Take a for instance …

Say I –let’s call me Laila– am an Egyptian ballet dancer, living alone in Cairo, watching Star Trek the original series at 6:00 am since sleep is eluding me, hair is tied up in a dull bun, eyes are bloodshot from lack of rest and hysterical crying, a large bowl of popcorn that I’m munching at rests on my thighs making me feel guilty and fat though I barely weigh 43 kilos.

Now, imagine my story is as such: I’ve just moved out of my parent’s apartment following a huge fight. I was also dumped by my boyfriend of two years (a thing I blamed my parents for). I have very few friends in Cairo to turn to, since I spent the first 20 years of my life abroad (my dad’s an ambassador), and I’m taking out all my misery on myself by binge eating and masochistically watching a TV show that my ex-boyfriend loved and I passionately hated. His favorite character was Spock. So every time Nimoy utters a word on screen, I break down in tears. I’m alone and single with no one to console me.

Now consider this scenario. I’m awake at 6:00 am, because I just dropped off my boyfriend at the airport. He’s off to Oxford for two years to read Geography, and that’s why I’ve been crying. My work schedule and my budget don’t allow for frequent travels, I will not see him for long, and we kind of agreed to break off our relationship since we both know long-distance doesn’t work. My parents are living with my brother in Canada, and I’ve cut off most of my friends when I started dating (stupid me!) That’s why I have no one to turn to. I decided to watch Star Trek because I’m secretly a nerd, and my boyfriend hated it (and judged me for it) so now that’s he’s gone, I felt free to watch Spock all I want, in an effort to cheer myself up. But the act only reminded me that my boy is not there. I’m alone and single with no one to console me.

Or perhaps, I’m awake at 6:00 am because I had an awful performance the night before, and I fell several times on stage. I’m depressed. My trainer gave me an earful, and my friends -instead of being supportive- giggled when I messed up. At that moment, at 6:00 am, I reminded myself that I don’t even have a man whose shoulders I could cry on. I have never been in a long-term relationship to begin with. I cry more. I’m watching Star Trek because it seems to be the only thing on TV, besides Bollywood ‘classics’ (satellite signals are scrambled so most channels are on the blink). The sets for that show are primitive and laughable, at best, so I’m not amused. This pointed-eared alien with two skewed lines for eyebrows is particularly getting on my nerves. I’m alone and single with no one to console me.

So in a way whatever circumstances led to that moment in time at 6:00 am for Laila become irrelevant if we erase or choose to ignore their impact on the present.

There may be many possible reasons why this girl is crying. Nothing in the past changes the fact that she is now. And that in the future she will stop.

Bear with me. If we forget (or pretend to forget) what led to that moment, it’s easier to isolate the moment, realize it could be a product of many possibilities, focus on the present and make nice projections for the future. If the past can be seen from this point of view, the boyfriend or the lack thereof wouldn’t matter at 6:00 am when I’m, Laila, alone and unconsolable. Since his past presence or the lack thereof –as illustrated in these three scenarios- most probably won’t change the situation now, for Laila, at 6:00 am.

Therefore, I have no choice (across the three scenarios) but to deal with the present moment (it’s the only thing I’ve got whatever preceded it), stop blaming the past (since many potential ‘pasts’ may have led to this point anyway), and get a grip and pull myself together — and perhaps put aside the popcorn and make a healthy salad.

This way, I have not only exercised control over the present moment, but also the past and the future — in a way reshaping them. And  may be this is what life should be about: creating paths, and if they don’t work, starting from the ‘now’ and considering the past only a mere possibility of many.

Changing trajectories, constantly. At every nasty turn.

To be honest, Time, and how it manipulates us and us it, has been on my mind lately — especially when I started reading about ‘energy work.’ But how Time plays out in the spiritual and holistic realm is perhaps a subject fit for another post.

I recently wrote in a letter to a friend that “time is magic.” I told the friend to repeat this like a mantra.

Time is magic.

“Time is magic,” I wrote. “It moves forward, it waits for no one, it bores us, it tricks us, it eludes us. It’s relative. It’s an illusion. It’s there, and it’s not. It’s linear. It’s circular. It slows down and builds up speed (read Einstein!). But it also heals and it makes everyone forget, and as it passes, makes the past look so small, so insignificant, so miniature and almost non-existent that sometimes we laugh at how much we thought it was important.”

Magic, I tell you. And I’m starting to believe that may be we can all learn a trick or two — fulfill that ancient dream, play with it, make it collapse or roll it backwards.

The short version of my 1700-words meditation is? Well … that time stops at moments and sometimes, it flies.

Listening to: One of my kitties playing ball with a piece of rolled-up foil.
Mood/State: Insatiable, slightly irritable, plagued with thought.
Wants from the Universe: More dreamy and deliciously slow time when I’m with special people and loved ones.
Existential question of the day: Are we human, or are we particle? (Blame ‘The Killers’)
Interesting find: This link and the question it poses — Can humans have a wave-length? There’s an experiment to prove it, if you have two cats, a devise that erases which-path information, a detecting screen, and some time on your hands, about the age of the universe take or give a few years … it’s doable!

Do girls forget love easily?

At least three people I know got married or got into committed relationships less than six months of their break-up with ex-boyfriends. A friend seemed to find this surprising. I, on the other hand, think it’s natural since time in some relationships and their aftermath is an irrelevant element.

A girl just wants to feel loved

Do girls forget easy? Do they move on faster than their male counterparts? I don’t think that’s the right question to ask. The right one is: How much time and emotions did the girl invest before realizing she’s hit a brick wall and that she has to turn back? The answer is crucial. Because once that brick wall, that barrier against passion and emotions, is reached, there’s no point in remembering or forgetting. It just is and the girl accepts and turns her back to the one she loves.

A person close to me told me of an old love story. Of an ex-fiance’. For two years, she held on, fighting for him inside her heart despite flaws, enduring blow after blow to the extent that the man thought she’d never leave, no matter what he’d do. He can get away with anything, he thought. He even tried to make her jealous by flirting heavily with other women, or flaunting his female friendships in front of her. And she’d still accepted him. Until one day, she sent a long letter saying she’s leaving the relationship, sending her engagement band in the same envelope as the letter (that was around 40 years ago, mind you!). He laughed, and called it a bluff. It turns out it wasn’t. More than thirty years later, he confessed to close ones he always regretted taking her for granted, that he never forgot her and that she’d stayed in his heart ever since. He even said he often dreamt about her. Back then, numerous attempts to make her take him back failed — she didn’t even read the tens of letters he sent. They were thrown away unread. She had sworn to herself that he’d never see her face again, and he didn’t for many years.

So why does this happen?

Simply because a girl gives her all before she decides to give up. I’ve read that women are often reluctant to end a relationship even if they’re more miserable than their men. So they try to fix it. Once. Twice. Numerous times. But at a certain moment it reveals itself as “un-fixable” and there’s no way but out.

And “feelings” are also irrelevant in this affair.

It’s a Eureka moment; a sudden discovery that you’ve done your part, compromised, explained, left no path untaken, cried your eyes off, pleaded and implored, swallowed the pain, and there’s nothing else to be done. There’s no energy for more, even if you want to give more. Your resources are depleted, and you’re filled with peace — this peace that comes with letting go.

So the girl lets go, walks back slowly and smiles to herself because she’s at least tried. There are no regrets, just a calm serenity.

And moving on, a day later or 6 months on (it’s all the same), and accepting love from someone else becomes easy (and much needed), since at this stage, the girl is hungry for love and affection. And part of the beauty of love is having it returned — by both words and action.

It’s a simple fact, but men seem to ignore it: Many a girl loves a guy because he’s nice to her, not because he’s drop-dead gorgeous, a rock star or a rocket scientist (it’s about her, partly, not just him). She loves him because he makes her feel beautiful, without make up, on a bad hair day, even when her nose is red and her eyes are full of tears, even when she’s weary and tired and not in the mood, even when she’s gained a few pounds for whatever reasons, even when she’s stopped feeling it herself. And it has nothing to do with empty compliments, but very, very small things that make a huge difference.

Fights, even small ones, let-downs and bickering, and accumulations of “the small stuff,” can bring one down, and eventually take the relationship south, no matter how big the love is.

Here’s another fact: Love is not enough. We stay with others, because they have a capacity to always make us feel good about ourselves. When this stops happening, more often than not, we ride into the sunset. Without looking back.

Listening to: beautiful silence
Mood: contemplative
Wants from the Universe:  A man who treats me well, and makes me feel loved … who will also make me laugh and bring a smile to my face when I’m down. One who tells me I’m beautiful. One who says he’ll be there and keeps the promise.

Enduring love, at least for now

It’s like discovering a new toy, this love business.

For most of the 29 years I’ve lived on this Earth, save a year in college and two in high school, I really was never sentimental, in the romantic sense. No one impressed me, dramatic displays of love made me feel like puking and I poked fun in every chance I got at the hopeless romantics who I encountered along the way. This began to change in London when, as it seems, I was thunder-struck with the idea that I don’t want to end up alone. That gained momentum when I was back in Cairo.

Now, I’m different.

At least in my head, I began making mental checklists of Mr. Right (I’d like to call him X, sounds much cooler), crossing out traits here and there, then putting some of them back on again, as I go. Only to end up wanting the universe to choose for me or surprise me. And I started developing this fantasy of running into my “dream guy” and not having to settle for an arranged marriage — Sorry, girls, tried to wrap my head around it, almost did, but my head is too big for that 🙂 at least so far.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still loyal to some of my old beliefs.

I still find cheesiness hard to swallow, it gets lodged in my throat almost every time but now I’m obsessively curious about ‘L’amour’ and all it entails. Even heartbreak sounds intriguingly albeit melancholically beautiful in a way. And believe it or not, some love songs do make more sense now. I have much more patience for my friends’ romance-related anecdotes — and to my delight I have been told I’m now “more human” and “softer”. (And love is all what I want to blog about these days).

But I have to say the discoveries made are not only linked to stretches of emotion, actually they’re more linked to how we’re psychologically affected by the experience, like this blogpost suggests, and in turn physically, like this and this articles show. How are people affected by their upbringing, and how that plays out in their current relationships? The meeting of two, the merge of ideas and of pasts, the latter more significant than the former. What happens when we fall in love? Why do we prefer some people to others? What governs this process? Biology, culture, evolution? All of that? What makes one factor stronger than the other? What happens when we fall out of love? What happens when we move on? When we’re jealous? or cold? When we communicate successfully or surrender to conflict? Head and body. Male brain and female brain.

Boring?

Could be for some people. However, there’s always the joy of exploring the philosophical part, which is more poetic, heart-wrenching at times, and it touches us deeply, mainly because it tells us about ourselves in the most beautiful of words. It’s also as eyeopening as it is sad, because we learn about cycles of thought, inhibitions, patterns of behavior that define the human condition. And it makes you wonder what traps us, whether it’s all fated, or all inherent in the collective consciousness. Deep stuff, I tell ya. And, for those who are like the past-me, most of it is not even romantic.

Listening to the buzz from Algeria-Slovenia football match
+ Noise from the oscillating fan in the office
Mood: Playful, Inquisitive

Difficult, Difficult, Lemon Difficult

Relationships, that is.

The title of the blogpost is a quote from In the Loop, a Brit-American political comedy about the lead up to the Iraq war. It’s uttered by a hapless British minister lost at finding a way to remain neutral in the face of belligerent US politicians and military men divided over preventing or launching a war. The minister’s aide tells him that sitting on the fence is going to be “easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy” to which he responds, stumbling for words, that “No, it’s going to be difficult, difficult, lemon difficult” — which I find to be one of the most absurd and brilliant comedic lines I’ve heard in movies.

It’s also true of relationships. They’re DDLD — whether in Cairo, by the sea, in the mountains, at one end of Egypt or another.

A conversation that I and a travel partner (@beleidy on Twitter) had with young Bedouins during an assignment last month in Shalateen made me meditate on this more. After a stroll on the beach and a chit-chat with four young residents, we found ourselves giving “dating” advise to inquisitive strangers and sharing our insights into the differences between marriage in Cairo and Shalateen, almost 1000 km south and so practically at the other end of the country. It was an interesting conversation, which (at least for me) was steeped in innocence, simplicity, curiosity but also carried signs of confusion and a sense of entrapment. I may very well be projecting my own feelings of how complicated I find the workings of relationships between the opposite sexes in this city ‘that conquers’ – Al-Qahera- to be. But this is exactly the vibe I received.

The conversation inspired a whole article, which we decided should be the teaser piece for our travel package and which can be found here:http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/married-tradition-shalateen(“Married to Tradition”, published by Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition). And it often made me laugh when I remember it, and occasionally think, well think seriously I mean.

I’m not sure about my colleague, but I’m such a loser at relationships myself, I don’t know how they start or end, I don’t know anything about how to make them work and like in journalism, I’m often an observer not an actor. Because of this, I waver between many mixed feelings. I feel this aloneness, and I forget it. I let go then I worry. It gives me space, it suffocates me. It frustrates me sometimes. I’m not bothered by it at other times.  But it always makes me think, when I see others forging what seems to be eternal ties with loved ones, “What am I doing wrong?”

And so on that beach of Shalateen, when these young men seemed trapped in their own traditions of marrying cousins and marrying inside the tribe, I thought it was amusing that they were seeking answers from us.

We kept prodding ourselves. What if you decide to marry from Cairo? What if you like a girl from outside the tribe? What if this? What if that? And they indulged us as much as we did them.

And following a long conversation, there was a pause.

Despite how simple and cheap it was to get married, they were held back by ancient costumes — having your life partner chosen by parents and pre-decided for you.

But we are, it seems, held back by even greater forces, which are rooted in the idea of picking and choosing — finding the right girl or guy amid a myriad of choices that are not really choices when you think of them (everyone is “too” something for the other, too educated, too ignorant, too rich, too poor, too old, too young, too aggressive, too laid-back, too fat, too thin, too short, etc, etc). And of course by greater complications, which include family status, money or the lack thereof.

As I said, there was a pause. They weren’t impressed by the complexities that dating, relationships, “love” entitle for Cairiens despite all the apparent “freedom” we have. We, or at least I wasn’t happy with the sense of helplessness they seemed to have in choosing who to spend the rest of their lives with. They seemed to compensate for that by having the ability to marry more than one. It’s very easy (and in upcoming instalments of the Shalateen travel package, we will write elaborately on marriage and divorce in the tribe. The stories come out every Wednesday).

But it didn’t seem that our part of the deal had that appeal. Divorce and re-marriage is a big deal here, and for girls it’s still a small catastrophe to be divorced “or ditched” by the man across classes. It’s still a big deal if you choose out of the “mainstream”, like choosing someone of a noticeably different social background, from outside of the capital or someone who is several years younger, something that writer and relationship advisor Marwa Rakha writes about here: http://www.marwarakha.com/index.php?categoryid=25&p2_articleid=1021

Marwa, like many among us, screams at the small world we all float within, complaining of double-standards, of extreme lack of respect for privacy, of gossip and back-stabbing, and most of all of those who limit your choices by asking you to conform to a standard. As if you choose, borrowing from Neil Gaiman’s words, who “the stupid person” who stumbles into your stupid life and steals your heart will be.

In short, in the north, it seems a much more complicated affair than in the south, despite what it seems. We are similarly trapped, actually we’re in a worse situation.

At the end of our conversation on the beach, it seems that the Shalateen boys had secretly decided that relationship and marriage traditions in Cairo, the glittering capital reeking of  signs of ‘civilization’ and full of ‘free-spirited’ men and women, wonders, money, opportunity and choice, simply SUCK. And that perhaps in the mountains, it’s pre-ordained, but possible, as easy to get out of as it is to get into, simple, and unspoiled by material demands and needless pretences. And that perhaps we should chill a bit and enjoy what life has to offer instead of warping every good thing that comes our way.

Despite our levels of education, and if you’re so inclined, sophistication, we’re miserably looking for the other-half while being held down by our own lore and traditions, by our insecurities, doubts, loss of innocence, lack of faith and mistrust and while sifting through many distracting choices (so many that we don’t know what we want anymore).

We’re tired of convention too, but like the Shalateen guys, we’re too afraid to break ranks with the overwhelming mainstream. That’s why someone like Marwa Rakha who is past her 30, according to our lore, can’t fall in love with a man nine years her junior, and that’s why the AUC boy, according to golden rules, cannot marry a girl from Al-Azhar University, and that’s why the overweight geek can’t get the blond everyone wants, and that’s why this 29-year-old girl (who just realized that after working for a few years and completing her masters degree she wants to fall in love) should settle for an arranged marriage, “or we’ll all miss the train,” as the Egyptian saying goes.

That’s why it’s difficult, like lemons.

But Focket!

(like our lifestyle editor would say)

Screw those Egyptian-made rules. I’m not playing this game any more.

I want out!

—–

Related Links:

Hunt for Adventure, Fun and Facts in the southern mountains: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/hunt-adventure-fun-and-facts-southern-mountains

Married to Tradition: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/married-tradition-shalateen

Amr El Beleidy blogs about marriage, dating and relationships in Shalateen and Cairo:  https://pakinamamer.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/guest-post-reflections-on-a-southern-marriage/

Related Twitter accounts:

@pakinamamer: Traveller and writer, and owner of this blog.

@beleidy: Traveller and writer.

@Badriya4X4: a Landy who tweeted about the 1200-km journey deep south.