“People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between
past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
Long ago, around the year 2001/2002, I went to my first Vipassana meditation retreat, where I had some extremely powerful experiences. It was there, amidst the eternal silence of the majestic redwoods, the pure mountain air, the organic and healthy food, and love untainted by expectations – it rejuvinated my hungry, parched psyche – that I first became aware of the dynamic quality of time, and time as an un-understood, or grossly misunderstood entity that impinges on our consciousness. Up until then I had considered time as a given – the chronological one dimensional entity that is measured through the tick-toc of watches and clocks. So enmeshed and subjective had time been in my daily existence that I had not been able to separate from it and observe it objectively, because after all, who observes and experiences their kidneys, or the air that goes thru our nostrils? Like a good mother, they just are – to be taken for granted. I had existed in a symbiotic union with time – it was a part of me, and I was a part of that eternal truth.
On my 8th day there, some psychological ground was broken through and I spent 14 hours a day meditating on the concept of time. I didn’t understand what it was, I could not verbalize what I felt, but my experiences were vivid and potent. Upon returning from the retreat I tried to cognitively understand my experiences, and tried to read tons of books – Stephen Hawkins, Einstein, Jung and even von Franz among many many others, but none of them really touched my own experiences. So I would lose interest in them halfway, and would stack them on my bookcase which they still adorn, waiting to be heard. Perhaps some day I will touch their wisdom again. I realized that the more I read, the more disonnected I became from my own truth, my own experiences. So eager and excited to learn was I, that I would categorize and fit my experiences into the framework provided by these esteemed authors. My truth was being influenced by theirs. What was experienced within – the pure, uncontaminated – couldn’t remain so. The wise old man, Father Time, hadn’t been ready to accompany me in my journeys. I had to let go, to patiently await the unfolding. I stopped reading in an attempt to shut off the external chatter, and I let the experiences drop down into the psychic folds, where they germinated at their own pace, in their own “time”.
For the last 8+ years since I have tried to make sense of those experiences, and many more I have had since, I have added my clients’ experiences of time to the potpourri of my stirrings, my thoughts and to the accumulating trove of experiences. I have tried to make sense – but have also let go when those experiences threatened to overwhlem, or when I became too anxious, or too eager. Whatever will be, will be. I have held faith in the process of being and becoming. I have held faith that the stillness of the center would allow for such unfolding automatically.
This expression here is a way of organizing that which has been fertilizing at the core of my psyche. It may seem haphazard, or unbelievable, or disorganized, but that because I may have been premature with my expression and that the experience needs a greater gestation period. In other words, perhaps I need more “time” to make sense of my experiences! 😉
One significant aspect of my inward journeys was the awareness of the universe being like a blank canvas upon which humans project their own idiosyncracies. The physicists write their gospels from their own projections, and call it the essential truth of our time. The transcendentalists write up their own projections and call it the essential spiritual truth. The biologists, the psychologists, the chemists, the geologists – everyone has their own experiences that they try to make sense of by observing the external world and attributing internal to the external. If these were prehistoric times, these sciences would be crowned as new gods of our times, fighting for hegemony. But the experiences arise from within us. And since everyone’s experiences are as valid, then the universe must be all encompassing, something that is a superset of all human experiences. What would such a reality look like? Which brought me back to Advaita Vedanta philosophy of a nir-guna (devoid of properties), nir-akaar (devoid of shape or form), a neutral Brahman. Any naam-roop (name/form) that we ascribe to it, is a gift of Maya – and enables perceptual and cognitive grounding. But the Maya that we see unfolds in our own minds, so that our minds can remain grounded. It is a defensive strategy, optimised for survival.
So then are Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Psychology etc all sciences that explain the various aspects of our material world…all different naam-roop of the same universal material of the cosmos? Perhaps all religions too – perhaps they reveal various aspects of the same universal material of the creator and created – assuming the creator is also the created. And are these internal truths too? They have to be, especially if the creator is also the created. And if we can accept that these are different names and forms of the same material truth, then I fail to understand how the 33,00,00,000 gods and goddesses of Hinduism, and 5000 different religions and their gods cannot be understood in the same context? Modern sciences sport different logos, different labels, they are written in a different text, with different gammatical and physical structure, by different priests, but they comprise of essentially a similar kingdom with a cohort of nobility and their ignorant public, they represent a courthouse full of gods that hold knowledge and power over certain aspects of our material reality and we mortals accept their commands. And this observation again brings me back to the concept of time. If we are still living in that Kingdom, then, I mean….we are stuck in time, aren’t we?
Lets forget the “normal” definition of time that is crafted and handed over to us by our contemporary gods, the gods of science. How would you, as an individual, define time? For me, I do not know what time is. There is birth, life, and death, the aspects of reality that is symbolized by and associated with the trinity of Brahma Vishnu Mahesh. This cycle has been the universal truth, since time immemorial. In Hinduism, all information about birth is collected and maintained in the file that is labelled as Brahma. All intelligence about maintenance and sustenance is filed away under the label of Vishnu, and simialrly the intelligence about death is the realm of Mahesh, or Shiva. Alternately, one can see these as different functional departmental heads in a larger organization called God’s Kingdom. Different religions can have different ways of organizing this information – just like different nations break up their lands, and their financial budgets, and their political and social lives in different ways, which leads to diversity. And we fight about democracy and capitalism being “better” than communism, for instance, but we forget that democracy and communism are modern day religions. We just have tagged them differently. So we’re standing still in time, fighting the same wars, but calling them different names.
When we see this, when we can experience such displacement of names, and experiences, then we see how the construct of time is hollow delusion of human mind. We merely perceive that the past present and future exist, or that time is linear, but if time really was linear, we would move forward or backward in time, like we do in space. But it seems that we stand exactly where we are, unmoved, and the leela of the world unfolds. What is more, no matter where we stand, the events of our life repeat, regardless. Our past always becomes our present, and our future. Could that be because we haven’t moved at all?
This is a bit dense without examples, so lets take an example. The concept that we explored enables us to see for sure that we live in the same spot today, in the same kingdoms today. We fight the same wars today, and we do exactly the same things today that we did ages ago. Human nature has not changed, neither has the environment, nor the instincts, nor the needs and desires, the outcome of our actions is still the same. Nothing has changed. It just is differently clothed. But we do have a delusion, an illusion of change, simply because we wear different clothes, and carry different gadgets and drive different cars. But that is like the slope of a line, or a plane, in co-ordinate geometry. At any point, the slope is the same, exactly the same numerical number, even though any point on a given line occurs at different x and y and z axis.
To demonstrate this further, I’ll use some personal experiences and the experiences of my profession, and our therapeutic session. In psychology, it is well known that in therapy, there is an unfolding of the earliest patterns of relating. People re-enact their early trauma again and again in the world, and this re-enactment is captured, studied and used to create insight in therapy – and this insight is what pushes the psyche towards change. In other words, change becomes the property of the psyche, and happens only in the illuminating light of consciousness. So if as a child a person has been betrayed by his or her parents, the child, and the later adult will carry betrayal as a lifelong theme, and will be subjected to repeated betrayals in life. Unaware of his theme, he can go through a life full of betrayals. It is as if the first betrayal creates a ditch into which he falls and stays in, he stays glued to the original complex and has to undergo the journey of repeated traumatisations. In other words it is as if a person is stuck in time. Psychologically speaking, we assume that a repetition (Repetitive Compulsive disorder) takes hold, the person will become subjected to a need to recreate the primal trauma. But we assume this because psychology only studies the psyches that are damaged in the journey of life. What if this was a fundamental property of evolution? What if each one of us carry a theme that repeats thru life, to a smaller or larger extent. What if we stood in one place, until the illuminating light of insight, our consciousness, forced the psyche in another “direction.” What would that mean? How would that be?
I wonder if the un-illuninated psyche exists in the timeless, formless form, undifferentiated with the universe. I wonder if our bodies – identified only thru a reflection – create a sense of perception. (Remember Narcissisus?) This sense of “I” – is it a consequence of simply being able to look at itself ? Do birds, who have no idea of how they look like, have an I? It is the I who morphs in a way that allows for the experiences of chronological time (all in my opinion of course). The awareness of a body creates an ego, and a self. If I couldn’t see myself, I perhaps would exist in greater harmony with the universe. The mirror allows me to separate myself from my surroundings. But the eyes, being given for purpose of ensuring survival, are defensive in their very functionality. They encourage separation, discourage unity. Perhaps that is why meditation and non duality is promoted when vision is blocked thru closed eyelids. The deconstruction of the perceieved separation becomes easier. And chronological time perhaps is consequence of such a constructed world. Just like the constructed I – the ego – time is also a defensive construct that has been created by the brain to ensure survival. And any survival oriented faculty has to be divisive, separationist. Like the lines of the latitude and longitude, it exists only in our minds. The Self, enmeshed with the world, appears to be standing in one “place.” The body can move across in spatial dimensions, but the psyche stands still in this spacetime matrix, until there is a deliberate movement. Just as the movement in space is initiated by an external or internal force, and is negotiated by overcoming the force of inertia, and just as resistance is the offspring of inertia, there has to be an external or internal factor that pushes the psyche to move in the psychic world, in the world of time, and psychic resistance must need to be overcome. And just like in space, no movement is possible without this, the psychic movement must be similarly, or differently mediated by some psychic resistance. Without the external force, the material body, and the immaterial psyche must not move. The laws of “physics” have to be the same, or similar.
All this dense paragraph above means, is that unlike the body that ages, the psychic growth may be a consequence of this force – and the force that enables this may be the human experiences – and I tend to lean towards trauma, for the simple reason because the enlightened ones have been mostly also been those that have been the traumatised. One of my patient’s previously diagnosed with psychosis once said to me “the mountains are glorious, but we grow most in the valleys”…and these words were her psychic truths, and hence cannot be negated or overlooked.
In my own therapy/analysis, and in those of my clients as well, I have repeatedly seen (and experienced) that though the people may function like adults in the external world, there are (always) parts of them that have been held back in time. And when that held back part is accessed in the therapeutic sessions, it comes alive and starts moving (growing?) spontaneously. It had been unmistakably arrested in time. or one would say that in the moments that part is “operative” and is “growing” – the person does not belong in this time. It appears that the person simulataneously lives in multiple locations in time, as if time was sliced or fragmented and the person jumps across living one fragment after another, jumping senselessly between moment to moment of his past. Externally, he seems to be living in the present, but really, he is not living in the present at all. It is by becoming aware of this disperate “jumping around in time” actions that the person can willingly choose to return to earlier stage where trauma occured, heal themselves, and return to the present. A cognitive assimilation is not always necessary for re-integration of personality. To not acknowledge this “time travel” or to say that those fragments of time do not exist within his psyche, would be tantamount to being blind to the psychic unfoldings. And to say that fragments of time do exist in his psyche is tantamount to saying time exists within the individual, not outside of him. And it is this delusion of time that is “broken” in trauma, it caeses to function. The person recognizes he is rooted, he recognizes that time does not exist. In other words, trauma may be destroying our delusions and bringing us closer to reality. What we call time in either case, may simply be a psychic movement, butof course that is not time as we define it generally. Outside – our external reality – is like a nice view of the surroundings that we get when we are driving in a car, or we are watching the the car being driven in a video. Its only the internal happenings of the car that are really relevent to our truth, our existence. All else is just pure “entertainment” – aka delusion. To operate on the basis on such external truth, is to be delusional. As the Hindus would say, it is the veil of Maya.
From the above we can see how the past, and the present co-exist – but they co-exist only within the person. and they unfold not in a linear way, but in a self paced, non linear way that is – surprise, surprise – developmentally dictated and driven. Essentially the internal time, the real time, must be some measure, some unit of the psychic movement. And one can see how complex the expressions of verbalisations are, because the only way I feel I can deconstruct time is by ascribing spatial attributes to it. That would make it dissimilar to the normal definition of time. That doesn’t mean it has spatial attributes, it just means that time doesn’t seem to have many of the temporal attributes that we normally ascribe to it. We simply attribute them to time because we have been taught to do so. We have been taught to see some things that are not there, and taught to discard other things that are there. But when we casually say to someone “you are being childish” – we generally don’t realise how accurate we are in our assessment of his psychic configuration, and how the person has time travelled to a certain broken fragment of his “inner time” and is, at this moment, operating from that “place” and “time.” A fragment of him is in that proverbial ditch which he was pushed into, and stays in.
So essentially, from these explorations of my psyche, I came to a conclusion that time does not exist, at least not in the way we understand it. An entity that comes closest to the concept of chronological time that appears to have an independent existence, is the concept of personal time. And that, in my opinion is a totally different concept from the concept of chronological time. Personal time is more like a dna, or a fingerprint that has a lifespan, can be stretched and condensed, and has a pattern of dynamic unfolding tagged to it.
I have much more to say on this topic, but much of what I have to say is dense, and tangential (drawing from physics, chemistry and molecular biology) that I would find it difficult to articulate and make sense of it over a few pages, without a benchmark. So let me close with something that has stayed with me for a long time now and that which I often repeat to my clients. I like to think that the psyche is like a clock, that stays in one place, and its hands go round and round and round, but that is not how we experience time. We experience time differently, as life, in our daily encounters with the environment. Every day is different, every moment we are different, our height shape size is different, our cellular composition is different, we are children, we grow, we love hate and marry and divorce. We have kids, they have kids, and those kids have kids and what we started as, is not the same as what we live, and then end up as. But the hands of the clock – well they just keep going round and round and round. Until someone resets the time for daylight saving, or moves it to a different date/time location. And then there again it keeps going round and round. That is all the psyche does. It is standing in one place, and it keeps going round and round and round. Until. It is. The rest falls in the realm of the godess Kali, who is empowered to destroy all delusions. And I close with the same pertinent quote from Einstein that I opened this post with :
“People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”