Friday, April 29, 2016


‘Now, can the mind be free of time? That is the real problem. Because, all creation takes place outside the field of time; all profound thinking, all deep feeling, is always timeless.’—J. Krishnamurti, Collected Works, vol. XI, 169.

Time is an illusion. It's not a real thingThat’s right! No, I haven't gone totally crazy, although some may beg to differ. Time is created by a combination of thought, memory and awareness of the so-called present moment ever renewing itself as the present moment over and over again. As we live we move through a succession of now-moments. The American spiritual psychologist and teacher Vernon Howard said, ‘Real life is a timeless renewal in the present moment.’ I like that.

Edward M Matthews [pictured right], a Liberal Catholic bishop, from whose writings and radio talks I’ve derived much benefit over the years, wrote:

… We cannot see [time] because we are immersed in it. It is like the air we breathe. We are not conscious of it except as a passing element. We notice time moving slowly, or faster according to the circumstance in which we are involved for the moment. When matters are pleasing it moves fast, often too fast. But when matters are irksome, we become aware of time and find that it moves slowly, often too slowly.

Time is the great illusion rather than the material of this world, as many suppose. The material is real enough for the time that it exists. The time factor is entirely dependent upon our awareness of the material. Therefore, the illusory effect is produced by the time during which we are aware of the material. (Collected Works of Edward M Matthews, vol I: The Printed Publications, San Diego CA: St Alban Press, 2007.)

Matthews is right. We cannot see time. We can watch a clock tick, and if the clock be the old-fashioned kind, we can see the hands on the clock move, but we cannot see time. Time is a relative construct. Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity shows that. In truth, it is nothing more than movement, which is life, but it is not a ‘thing’ in itself. We talk about ‘saving time’ but in truth it is impossible to save time. If time were a ‘thing’ we could weight it, boil or heat it, or freeze it. We can do none of those things. In a sense, it is a ‘no-thing’, for all we are capable of seeing is the effect of time, for example, an ageing body, a tree growing in size, and so on.

Yes, movement is the defining factor of time, and since life is movement—ceaseless movement and constant flux—so time must be of that nature. It is only when we are alive can we witness time. Julian Barbour [pictured left], a British physicist, describes time as ‘a succession of pictures, a succession of snapshots, changing continuously one into another.’ Barbour has made the point that change is real, but not time, the latter being only a reflection of time. ‘Isaac Newton,’ Barbour noted, ‘insisted that even if absolutely nothing at all happened, time would be passing, and that I believe is completely wrong.’ The truth is that without change we would have no notion of time at all.

The Indian spiritual teacher J. Krishnamurti often pointed out that there is a very close connection between thought and memory and the awareness of time. In a sense, thought and memory create time. Whenever we recall an incident from the so-called past, we have a sense of the effluxion of time, likewise when we project into the future. In truth, everything is contained within ‘the now.’ All durationor time, if you willis total and complete in the now. There is an eternal quality about the now. It is forever new. What we refer to as the present moment is simply the now experienced as such—that is, as a now-moment. The past, in the form of memories, is no more than the expression of a present reality, being a present ‘window link’ to the eternity of the now. It’s the same as respects the future; any ideas about or hopes for the future are present ideas and hopes. Yes, what we call the present is simply that which presents itself before us in the now, so the present embraces past, present and future.

The Christian existentialist theologian Paul Tillich [pictured right] says as much in his wonderful book The Eternal Now. Tillich writes:

The mystery of the future and the mystery of the past are united in the mystery of the present. Our time, the time we have, is the time in which we have ‘presence.’ ... Each of the modes of time has its peculiar mystery, each of them carries its peculiar anxiety. Each of them drives us to an ultimate question. There is one answer to these questions -- the eternal. There is one power that surpasses the all-consuming power of time -- the eternal ... . 

There is only now. In the now everything lives, moves and has its being. In the now everything appears, changes and disappears. That is the totality of life. Only the now is real.

Living mindfully means living in the now. It means being choicelessly aware of each now-moment as it both arises and morphs almost instantaneously into the next now-moment, and then the one after that, and so on into eternity. When your awareness is at-one with the object—internal or external—of your awareness, that is, when there is no separation (an unfortunate word in this context) between the two, you are living in the eternal now. It is only then that you have no sense of time, for your awareness is not interrupted and thus broken by thought, feeling or memory.

Shakyamuni Buddha advised us to observe and watch closelythat is, mindfullywhatever is occurring in the here-and-now from one now-moment to the next. Not only watch but, as the Buddha went on to say, ‘firmly and steadily pierce it.’ Yes, pierce the reality of the content of each now-moment experience. Only then can you truly say you are alive and no longer living in time.

Start living in the eternal—right this very now-moment! It is the best way to live.

Note. On Sunday, April 7, 1940, Edward Murray Matthews, then still a priest, began a series of radio talks on KFAC in Los Angeles. This series of talks, later broadcast on radio station KNCR, would continue for several decades. Here is a link to some audio files of taped radio shows of Bishop (later Archbishop) Matthews. The talks are well worth listening to. He spoke so very well, and was a very learned man. 


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