Monthly Archives: February 2009

No Time but the Present

“Imagine a donut, fired from a cannon at the speed of light while rotating. Time is like that, except without the cannon and the donut.” – Dilbert

What is time? I’ve always thought of time as a linear forward movement, an arrow pointing from past to future, where events are lined up in calendar boxes. I’ve considered time as a road where the past is behind us and the future’s up ahead. Along the road, change happens: trees bud and flower, people fall in love and marry and divorce, babies turn into kids and kids turn into big people. Time has felt like a game board we traverse, start to finish.

One definition of time, from Wordnet, is “a period… considered as a resource under your control and sufficient to accomplish something.” If time is a resource, we all seem deprived of it. We say time’s running out, we’re out of time, we haven’t got enough time. (That is, unless we’re kids or invalids and then we don’t know what to do with all the time on our hands.) We feel pursued by time, as if it were a predator eating our life away, causing us to age and die. Will Rogers said, “Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save.”

Another definition of time: “The continuum of experience in which events pass from the future through the present to the past.” But do past and future exist? Have you ever experienced anything except a present moment? We have memories, but even those only exist in this moment. Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.”

Lately (since I took up regular meditation) I’ve noticed that time changes according to my state of mind. When I’m rushing, scattered, distracted by a million to-do’s and shoulds, feeling I’ll never keep up – then time whizzes past. It speeds up when I hurry after it, like someone being chased. When I stop rushing and am utterly present in the moment, time seems to slow down alongside me, lingering, reveling. Or else it disappears, replaced by a nice quiet spaciousness. In the spaciousness, movements and colors dissolve and appear, leisurely.

At times (ha ha) I feel stunned to be witnessing an entirely new reality right now, compared with ten minutes ago. Right now I’m aware of sitting on my bed, typing, and it’s dark outside. But awareness was just in the kitchen washing dishes. And awareness was taking vitamins that stuck a little in the throat. When life is vivid, when I’m soaked in the present moment, sometimes I’m startled at how drastically and fluidly it changes. As Thomas Hardy wrote, “Time changes everything except something within us which is always surprised by change.”

Maybe time doesn’t exist separate from our perception; maybe we’re creating the speed or slowness of “time” with our perception. Maybe there’s just no such thing as time. There’s the present moment, which is always one single moment, filled with shifting kaleidoscope reality. It’s now, it’s here, and there’s no difference between now and here. Time and space are collapsed, inseparable, in THIS. And this is it. This, now, here, is all we have.

I’m not sure how to explain it. But it’ll come to me later. There’s plenty of time.