I’ve been calling this work both The Canonical Hours Project and Meditation on a Day. It is based on a poem (Horae Canonicae) by W.H. Auden that moves through 3 hour intervals over the course of a day starting at 6 am.
My hope with this series is that when it is installed, it will create a physical place for people to be able to slow down and get some relief from the stresses of the day. There is something calming when you can become more aware of time – a reminder that the thoughts and feelings you may be experiencing at any given moment will pass and be replaced by new ones.
Though the Canonical Hours are traditionally used in Christianity as sacred hours for prayer, I like how Auden was able to take the wisdom and ritual from a religious practice and transform it into a secular structure that anyone can access – like a mental model to help us stop and notice time and energy passing — to be present in the moment. I think the practice of noticing time in these regular intervals can be a form of meditation with benefits for our mental and overall wellbeing.
Here is an outline of the structure of the poem and a summary of how each section of the poem affected me and what I chose to paint for that hour:
6 AM: Prime
“Without a name or history I wake
Between my body and the day…”
This poem describes an awakening and emergence of the mind and body into the world and into a new day. By being present at this moment, can we see what a gift we are given in each new day? How do we live wiser? How do we need to be different today?
9 AM: Terce
“Let me get through this coming day…
At this hour we all might be anyone…”
By 9 am, for many of us, our social day is just starting. What possibilities & consequences, joys & sorrows lie ahead of us as we enter into our various roles in life? How can we be more mindful about bringing our true selves into each new day as we move into our external world?
12 PM: Sext
“The crowd sees only one thing
(which only the crowd can see)
an epiphany of that which does
whatever is done…”
By noon, we are lost in our profession or to the “social beast” of the crowds we belong to. How do we maintain a sense of individuality in times when it is easy to get caught up in the energy of the people surrounding us?
3 PM: Nones
“Mid-afternoon, yet the blood
of our sacrafice is already
Dry on the grass; we are not prepared
For silence so sudden so soon…”
Nature is a passive spectator to our destructive nature. We also have moments of indifference to the sorrows we cause and experience in our lives yet often have little choice but to return to our regular routines. How can we be aware of our mistakes, try to learn from them and move on with grace?
6 PM: Vespers
“For Sun and Moon supply their
conforming masks, but in this
hour of civil twilight all must
wear their own faces, And it is
now that our two paths cross…”
We all live with contradictions in our lives. It is often in the dualities we face that we are able to really see the best and worst reflected back at us. Can we recognize our dualities with honesty and accept they are part of what makes each of us strong and beautiful with potential to grow?
9 PM: Compline
“I cannot remember
A thing between noon and three
Nothing is with me now but a sound
A heart’s rhythm, a sense of stars…”
As we fall asleep, our body escapes from consciousness and we have momentary relief from our desires. Can we be more mindful about making room for peaceful moments of personal forgiveness and healing in our lives?
12 AM: Matins
No poem was written for this hour.
To me this work is about silence and mystery and knowing that everything comes out of the darkness. What can we notice when we surrender to silence and accept the mysteries in the darkness of our lives? Can we see that darkness can be the opening to great joy and beauty too?
3 AM: Lauds
“Among the leaves the
small birds sing;
The crow of the cock
In solitude, for company…”
At this hour, we are free of our thinking selves and as close to our natural selves as we can get. This poem feels like a celebration of the gift of being — that we are loved by the universe despite our imperfect nature. Alone, together, cycles, integration. How do we learn and grow to love each other and ourselves better?