Reflecting on Time
Sometimes, I marvel at time and how my life seems to flow. I can’t believe how old I am. Or I can’t believe how quickly yesterday becomes today, ‘now’ becomes ‘then.’ Yesterday afternoon I was in the middle of a wonderful conversation. I was totally absorbed, enjoying myself. Then, suddenly, it was a day later. Is this due to a lapse in attention? Many people say that as they get older, time passes more quickly. Is that the same as what I am describing?
Right now I am in the middle of everything. Everything I see and feel is so present, real, rich. I can see the apple tree blossoms, smell the lilac bushes, and feel my stomach expanding with my breath. I feel the rhythm of the wind in the apple trees. I don’t feel time. I feel this….. For an instant, there is only feeling. Then I try to remember what just happened. And as I write it down, I lose it.
I can’t locate time except as, for example, a number on my digital clock or something scheduled on my calendar. A minute, an hour is life transmuted into abstraction and memory. When I feel life going by so quickly, I am distant from it. It becomes like reviewing memories. Remembering is often like watching a movie, watching life summarized and miniaturized into individual frames. And I become a character in the movie. The nature of movies is to speed by so I speed by.
And when life speeds by (or you want it to speed by), it hurts. There is nostalgia there, but also regret. Nostalgia can’t compensate for losing the here and now. As described in the classic book, Flow, and different meditation traditions, when your life is full sized, close up, and embraced, there is no sense of being distant from others, the world, and one’s life; your time sense is altered. There isn’t a you being hugged but just the feeling of hugging. Time is not separable from each breath, movement, perception lived.
So, I guess the question is, can life always feel full? Can even regret be embraced? I think so. I think being open to the awareness of distance is a step in eliminating it. The heart of what I experience is my attitude toward it. In order to write this, I need both time and the timeless; the two are wrapped together and I need to embrace both. The timeless is the smell of the lilac and the rush of creativity when writing. Without the distance of time, I couldn’t step back and reflect. Without memory, I couldn’t write a word, couldn’t name the fragrance, couldn’t learn, couldn’t keep in mind even who I am relating to. I couldn’t appreciate people from my past, couldn’t identify who I carry within me. Memory is usually tied to an uncovering and release of emotion. But what is the ultimate aim of reflecting—and remembering? Creating great theories or conclusions? Or actually living more inclusively and deeply?
If you want to explore this for yourself and, if you’re a teacher, with your students: sit back in your chair and relax. Focus on your breath. Maybe close your eyes. Let come to mind a moment when you did something meaningful or fully. When you were fully involved. Picture or feel the details of the moment. Where were you? Were you with anyone? Who? If you were with others, how did your actions affect them? How did you work together? What did working or living fully feel like? How did you open to it?
And when you open your eyes and return, examine your responses. Hold them in memory and feel what they have to say. What made the moment so full and successful? What motivated you to do whatever you did?
Be aware in yourself how time and the timeless weave themselves together. Life is more exciting and rich when the patterns of this weaving are noticed and embraced.
*For an interesting reading on time for yourself or secondary school students, see: The Dharma of Dragons and Demons, by David Loy and Linda Goodhew.