Slaves of Calendars
There is an ancient poem that writes “山僧不解数甲子，一叶落知天下秋”, which means monks who live in mountains don’t bother to count the days, when they see leaves falling they would know it’s autumn.
Nowadays, city dwellers do the opposite that we seldom stop to observe the environmental clues around us and let the calendar tell us what we should do. In the recent years, I have a increasing feeling that time we used to experience is now too well-defined by calendar and clocks. I am not saying that with development of modern technology, knowing the exact date and time more and more conveniently is essentially a bad thing, but it actually further deprives our connection with the nature.
When I was in junior high, a common excuse for getting home later from basketball court than the agreed upon time is that “I didn’t wear my watch and my phone battery died”. Low tech as it sounds, it makes a good excuse because it is inconvenient to wear a watch to basketball and no clock is with in sight from the playground at school. It is not until winter my mom stopped buying as the days get really short that it usually gets dark around 5:30 in Beijing.
Actually, the natural signs of time never departed us even in the modern cities. Other than leaves falling, if we are careful enough, the autumn marks its arrival: the direction of winds changes from south-eastern to northern, the days are getting shorter and shorter, the clouds fly higher as the bright summer sky gradually rises and becomes filtered with blue. This must be the same leaves-falling autumn the monks count the days by.
Today, there are still 200,000 monks living in temple in China. They have long ceased to depend only on the falling of leaves to keep track of dates. The masters of their masters chose to move in temples in mountains to disconnect from human society and avoid various kinds of desires. However, the higher level of practice is as proposed by Liu ZongYuan in his poem “结庐在人境，而无车马喧”. (Housing at the city, but cannot hear the noise of horses and cars)
Although sometimes the fact that humans are further departing from nature upsets me, what is the purpose of such connection between human and nature? Or why we still want to preserve and fit into the natural environment so much, if we live with comfort in modern metropolis?
I used to think that we connect to the nature for practical purposes, but the more I think about it, the more I find that connection to the natural world does not contribute to our society much. Instead, It is more of a internal demand of human to be a part of nature. First, just like it is in our genes the need for intimacy between families and partners, a part of our nature is inherited from our ancestors who lived in the wild, and we need some connections to the woods and water. Second, individuals in a society need some time away from crowds occasionally to rest from human interactions or to reflect oneself, and getting away from the cities provide an opportunity for them to do so.