Time is weird. According to the counter I set up on my website, I’ve been meditating for 3,544 consecutive days. As of October 4th, 2016 I had been meditating for 1460 consecutive days by the count on the app I use as a timer during my meditations. Thanks to a long, and very fun, road trip (where we made record time) I had to wait until after midnight to meditate, so the tracker said I skipped a day. That happened again on November 29th, 2016. So now it says I am down to 86 days in a row. When I first started meditating, I took a vow to do 1,000 days. When I crossed that line a dear friend said, “Pshhh! Tell me when you get to 3,500 if you want me to be impressed.”
In the paradigm I was raised, I was taught to think of time in a clockwork, tick-tock fashion. Scenarios like the one above (and not a few experiences with heroic doses of psychedelics) have taught me to think of time in another way.
In his book “The Power of Now”, Eckhart Tolle drives home the old spiritual insight that there is only now. The past cannot be found. It can only be remembered now. The future cannot be seen. It can only be anticipated now. In his book “How long is now?”, Tim Freke examines the idea of this eternal thing that now seems to be.
Looking at the now through the eyes of the old, Copernican paradigm I was raised in, when I examine the now it seems to shrink to an impossibly thin membrane of existence. Once I think of an instant as now, that instant is in the past already. Getting a grip on the now in that scenario seems impossible.
However, we have all had experiences that call that idea of now into question. Our experience of time is not consistent. Some nows pass by without us even noticing. Some nows seem to stretch out over an impossibly long duration. Not all nows are equal. When I was within my 1,000 day vow of meditation, day 1,000 always seemed far off in the distance. Looking back now the whole of the vow feels like it passed in the blink of any eye.
I have begun to think in time, not as a sequence of seconds, but rather as a dance of moments. A moment is a loose boundary of time. A moment stretches to encompass the completeness of a given scene of our lives. When we stop for a moment to catch our bearings and take a long calming breath, that is a moment. When we sit with dear friends and share a long, sumptuous meal, that is a moment.
These moments sometimes overlap, and can sometimes contain each other. They can even have different subjective experiences of duration. Rushing into the house after work to quickly change clothes to hit dinner and a show can seem like a cramped moment that goes by in the blink of an eye, but within that moment you can catch a glance of your beloved as they go about a preparation in a frantic way that is so very them that your breath gets sucked away in a split second that seems to stretch out endlessly as you are reminded of how much you love them. Then, just as suddenly you are back to scrambling to get the right shoes on. Each moment has its own characteristics, and they do not necessarily share those with the moments they overlap. I think this is part of the inherent richness of life. It can also be a source of its bitterness. The moment of mourning after the passing of a loved one can become unbearably long, and it can overshadow any other moments it contains.
Using this as a model for time allows for a richer appreciation of the nuance and emotional richness of a day than the model that sees time as a series of equal and distinct instants that proceed in a regular and mechanical manner. A given moment has a particular feel, where a given instant of equal length is just the ticking of a clock hand.
Living with moments that define their own borders, life becomes a nested and overlapping set of encounters, each enriching all the others. That adds a spice to life that I can appreciate. I think you might too.