Christine Cayol, founder of Yishu 8, a Chinese “Villa Medici”: Another approach to time

- through Sophie Solere

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A philosopher by training, founder of Cabinet Synthesis, Christine Cayol has lived in Beijing since 2003, where she created Yishu 8, a Chinese “Villa Medici”. There she learned to make an ally of time, which she reported on in her book Why do the Chinese have the time?

The Chinese have, you write, a different position in their relationship to time than Westerners. This is essentially due to the fact that they aren't focused on an end result, that they aren't obsessed with succeeding at all costs?

This is a key question that is very difficult to grasp in the West, where everything is thought of in terms of objective and finality. The Chinese have a more pragmatic and spiritual approach to time than we do. In the Zhuangzi, a deeply spiritual, Taoist book, it is observed that if too much pressure is put on a person, he may not achieve his goal, while the person who will do the exercise relaxed and without obsession with the goal will achieve it. In China, the path to success is paved without setting big goals, unlike what we do in the West. As long as we are alive, we have time, because time is infinite, the Chinese tell us. And that changes everything. We then get out of anxiety, fear and everything that clutters us and pollutes our minds. By reconnecting with our breath, as in zazen which is aimless and without a spirit of profit, and with our environment, we thus connect with the infinite power of time. Our reserves are then inexhaustible.

We do not therefore find the imperialism of the will that is that of the West?

He is less present. In the West, philosophically, psychologically and spiritually, the will is the tool, the authority that allows us to do things and to do them well. In China, we think that we are more likely to succeed when we do things without really wanting to do them.

According to you, Chinese time would be, more alive than western time, which is linear and measurable…

Yes, because it relies less on clocks and less on quantity than on relational quality. I'm often surprised that at XNUMX:XNUMX p.m. Chinese people, who are very busy, suggest that I continue to chat and then continue by going to dinner. It is part of a process of entering into a relationship, of building trust in which we look less at the clock and where we do not count our hours. It is also linked to the fact – here we find the Buddhist imprint – that time is above all cyclical. When you have a cyclical perception of time, you don't feel like you're losing anything as time passes. You are less in the permanent race which is that of the West.

Is their relationship to time pmore alive because more linked to a natural rhythm that does not belong to us ?

Their perception of time is both cosmic and cyclical. We can see this very well with the Covid-19 health crisis that we are going through. My Chinese colleagues are not wondering when it will end. They observe how it evolves and according to what process. As we wait impatiently for something to unlock. We stick to “deadlines”, fateful milestones to reach. We are feverishly awaiting actions and results. And want at all costs that there is a before and an after. In China, a slowdown in activity followed, but not the almost total shutdown experienced by many Western countries.

Has this relationship to time not changed in recent decades, since China became capitalist, then the second economic power in the world?

It tends, in fact, to follow the rules of capitalism. The Chinese go fast. But, in recent decades, they have been overtaken by the notion of race and competition: to be the first, the best… As in the other major industrialized countries, they are confronted with anxiety and anguish linked to development. But this happens in a country where the social body unfolds and recovers. When you work in China, you can surf on a very buoyant energy climate. Time is first and foremost energy, an energy that is that of the cosmos. They play with watches. But their time remains very Chinese. And this is one of their great strengths.

You write that there is no thought, no creation, no governance and relationships without vacuum. Are the Chinese more adept than Westerners at emptying ?

It's a complex question, because the Chinese seem to be on the move all the time. And permanently on WeChat, their mobile text and voice messaging application. But they are also quite capable of taking the time. Sometimes I am invited to tea or incense ceremonies, especially among young Chinese people. Time then expands and relaxes in an incredible way. Action, as in Buddhism and Taoism, appears as a superficial mode of being. And in the thick of the action, they are quite capable of doing nothing.

Is their relationship to time more alive by that more vertical?

Their relationship to time is more spiritual. Time is not a stock or a reserve that we risk running out of. It is a way of being, the very stuff of being. As long as I'm alive, there's no reason I'm running out of time.

So the Chinese would have a real quality of presence?

They have a remarkable quality of presence. We find this same attitude in the martial arts, the calligraphy, the art of the kite or the gymnastic walks which testify, at home, to an ability to be present in the moment without objective. And also of a quality of observation. If I'm tense on a goal outside of myself, constantly thinking about the next shot, it puts me out of myself. They have a form of floating presence and, at the same time, an astonishing sharpness. Nothing escapes them.

You write that in the West, time beats to the rhythm of our words, and that in China, it unfolds to the rhythm of their silence.... Is there a connection with Chan which emphasizes the notion of silent transmission?

It is indeed very related. In the Chan as in Taoism, he who knows does not speak. One of the proverbs I quote in my last book, Crossing the river by feeling the stones: ten proverbs of Chinese wisdom, says that: "He who speaks does not know. And he who knows does not speak.

“In China, the relationship to time is more spiritual. Time is not a stock or a reserve that we risk running out of. It is a way of being, the very stuff of being. As long as I'm alive, there's no reason I'm running out of time. »

The master is the one who answers only very rarely and who marks us with the power of his presence. We have developed in the West a very different approach: “I speak, therefore I exist”. In the meetings I attend in China, I am always very struck by the silence which reigns and which disturbs me, although it is an almost zen silence. It's probably linked to the fact that we interpret this silence, which the Chinese don't. They live it, they are in it.

Have you managed, by listening to the Chinese, to make time a close friend?

I learn every day. I try, somehow, to make myself sensitive to the flexibility of time and to soften myself. To pay attention to movement and process, rather than stoppage or interruption.

Besides their relationship to time, what essential things have you learned from the Chinese?

Their relationship to body-mind fascinates me. They are never in the body, but always in the body-mind. When they go to the acupuncturist or go for a walk in a park, they reactivate a physical-spiritual energy. They thus come out of the dualism that we know and decompartmentalize the notion of spirituality. This is everywhere and nowhere for those who live in dualism. The Chinese go shopping in huge shopping centers, which does not prevent them from going to Buddhist temples which are very busy and very active. And this, without stigmatizing one area or another. They are in acceptance of what is.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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