Illusory Time

We’ve all heard that time and space are illusions, that love can bridge both and eradicate them. But how many of us have actually experienced the collapse of space or time?

I’ve had inklings of what it is like to deny space, most notably when I’ve been conducting multiple chats on Facebook with friends scattered around the world – connected simultaneously to Singapore and Norway, for example. But time has, until recently, remained rather solidly real. Oh, I’ve lost myself in contemplation, or in an activity, and – as we say – lost track of time. That experience has always ended with a solid thump back into awareness of time as a sequence, a flow that inexorably carries on while I’ve been doing other things. You know – “life is what happens while your attention is elsewhere.”

Lately, I’ve been gifted to experience a different sense of escaping the constraints of time – or rather, to begin to understand in a very profound way that time is indeed an illusion, a habit of mind that one can shed. My spiritual practice has triggered recognition of a number of mental lies, beliefs conditioned into me from various sources – parents, society, misinterpreted experience, self-doubt. One by one these falsities have shown their color, and I’ve been freed of their constraints. Several have to do with my perception of myself, and possibly do not have general application. The most recent, however, has to do with time and is certainly widely relevant.

I follow a couple of blogs which focus on aging – Time Goes By Time Goes By, and Aging Abundantly. It is important that there be a voice for older people, and even though I don’t always agree with these two, nor do they agree with one another, both writers present the experience of growing older and both confront and counter stereotypes that we all meet daily. They are rooted, however, in an acceptance that time passes and that we are necessarily caught within time’s reality.

I am learning to exist in a different reality. Focused on what I am doing in the present moment, time does not exist. Only when I choose to give my attention to something that happened in an earlier phase of my life – and only if I choose to consider the event in the context of “its” time – does time exist once more. If I instead immerse myself in the event as though it is a present happening, time vanishes.

As children we have all certainly been admonished to “act your age”. As adults, we mark milestones of age (legal drinking age, “the big five-oh”) and measure our accomplishments against some yardstick of what we should have achieved by this or that age. Retirement looms, eligibility for “senior” discounts, a host of societal norms that impose on us the supposed reality of time.

I remember my first encounter with a different concept of time. It was an effort to explain a Pueblo Indian concept that time is not a sequence, but a set of different present moments. The teacher described sausages tied together into a circle. The tribe lives within one sausage/season/period at a time. It is planting season until the circle rotates, and then they are living within the season of summer rain. Another rotation places them within the season of maturing corn. During each season, attention is fully devoted to the activities of that manner of being.

Since plunging into my new job, and a new relationship, I am interacting with various people in very vivid and engaging ways. I find myself so intensely focused on each present demand for my attention that my only awareness is of the activities I’m completing, and the people for whom I am completing them.

It was a shock, yesterday, to realize that 2014 is almost one half done!

I write dates daily, but their only meaning has been a set of numbers that identify a document which I may need to retrieve from my hard drive. My days are defined by who I will see, where I will find them, whether my computer will cooperate with the necessary data entry, and how I relax from work.

My interactions are an exchange between equals, whether co-workers or members of my social network. If I take a conscious step back into the time continuum, I recognize that all these people are chronologically younger – often much younger – than I am. Little about my days allows or enables me to take that conscious step back. Quite the contrary. As a result, I go days, weeks – lately months – living in a continuing present tense, being whatever age matches those with whom I engage, feeling essentially ageless and outside of time altogether.

What a marvelous sense of freedom results from this existence outside time!

Now if I can just figure out how to similarly collapse space, in order to be at once in the several different countries I still want to visit…

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