Reflections on Time

Posted on 04. Jan, 2011 by in Blog

As we move into another year, many people reflect on the year that has passed while setting resolutions and intentions for the next one. For some of us time is a scarcity, for others an inconvenience. Even in its linear sense, time teaches the natural flow of our awareness, whether as emergent growth or unfolding of hidden potential. Future is that which has not yet taken place and been experienced, known, and felt. Present is that which, indeed, appears present, as transitory as it may be. That is, present is clear and immediate. It is being as experienced, known, and felt with a sense of here and now in the very presencing itself. Past is understood to be that which has once been experienced, and known. Those three phases of experience, when accessed simultaneously in the open present, reveal the structure of becoming aware. First something is an unknown, then it’s immediately felt, and then it can be owned and reflected upon, in order to be realized. In reverse order, everything we now remember is a trace of something that was felt, which prior to that was unknown. This is true whether we consider material memory, somatic embodiment, emotional traces, conceptual content, or spiritual depth. This presencing-owning-releasing gives rise to both bewilderment and awareness.

The most common error is to escape the open present sense of knowing – wherein “past” and “future” are living aspects of present, namely that which we can reflect on, and that which is yet unknown – and thereby to project an objective past and future, existing independently from us. Based on such unskilful conceptualization, we become strongly inclined to see what we already know as beyond modification and forever so, while projecting our potentials into some future time. Our present thus becomes an ephemeral immediacy that never lasts long enough and is never accessed deep enough for anything truly significant to occur.

The next common error arising from the previous is to imagine the past and future as static – the first, because it’s done and gone, and the latter because it’s nonexistent. This is a further congelation of our view, whereby we actually lose access to the three bases of human knowledge and intent – memory, attention, and imagination – which become filtered and distorted into biased recollection, distractedness, and fancy. While largely absent from the immediately felt present in body, speech, and mind, we abuse our past with pride and shame, while crowding our future with hopes and fears. Thus, we get lost in time.

To find our way, we need to remember that time is a patient master, one we can rely upon. We need to exercise our memory, strenghten our attention, and employ our imagination. Gently at first, gradually developing, but we need to jolt, purify, and deeply enjoy these faculties to the point of building them into actual modes of perception. Next, we need to soften and become more sensitive to our pasts and futures in the open present – by allowing the past to rework itself in us, and inviting the future to announce itself through us. Whether our awakening is gradual (“future”), sudden (“present”), or innate (“past”) it’s essential that we don’t waste or ignore time. Thus we can discover a new relationship to time, one rooted in the core of our human beingness, in which innate freedom (“past”) gives birth to meaning (“present”) and purpose (“future”).

“And so, in each direction, everywhere,
Even on the tip of a hair, may I see an ocean of buddhas
All to come in past, present and future—in an ocean of pure realms,
And throughout an ocean of aeons, may I enter into enlightened action in each and every one!”
(from The King of Aspiration Prayers: Samantabhadra’s Aspiration To Good Actions, see here for full text)

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