How do you view time?
Most of us are left to understand and communicate time with basic linear descriptions e.g. left to right (because that’s the way letters travel forwards into the future?) left is the past and right is the future and the imagined person is facing right… heading forwards into the future. Or in the first person perspective the future is in front of us travelling towards us, where we stand, in the present, and then travels past us… which is then behind us.
I was chatting with an anthropologist named Grahame Martin on Saturday who introduced me to a new way of considering this…
While he was in PNG decades ago he relayed to me that they had a different paradigm of time… a different linear model.
For them, they face the past and their backs are to the future. Imagine you are in a row boat in a river. Time flows, like a river, from the future, to the present where they are now and flows past them into view. You are positioned this way because you can see the past but you cannot yet see the future… so your logical orientation is towards the past.
I did some more digging on this… there’s a tribe isolated high up in Andes called the Aymara. They also view time this way. The Aymara word for past is nayra, which literally means eye, sight or front. The word for future is q”ipa , which translates as behind or the back. q”ipüru, the Aymara word for tomorrow, combines q”ipa and uru , the word for day, to produce a literal meaning of “some day behind one’s back”.
Our whole culture in the west is based around a concrete view of time. We all share the same understanding that we are facing ‘the right way’ towards the future with markers clearly placed in our Google calendar to within 15 minute intervals ahead of us throughout the weeks and months.
Maybe we’re conceptually facing the wrong way? Maybe we need to turn around and let the future flow past us and accept that we cannot nor should we try to control everything.