Friday, 18 May 2012

Time and NOW

OK, so we aren't all lucky enough to be able to put our feet up on a lakeside veranda whilst we stay with "the bloom of the present moment;" but we can all help ourselves by developing techniques for doing so, wherever we are.

In a comment on my last posting, the one about Henry David Thoreau, Charles, and thanks to him for so many lively responses to my meanderings,  asked how one empties the mind so as to escape from the usual sense of onward time. My entirely predictable answer was "mindfulness meditation," and it probably always will be my answer to such questions.

A moment's reflection on time is likely to yield puzzling paradoxes. It can be elastic - "marvellous how time flies when you're having fun," or "as the catastrophe approached, time went into slow motion." No matter how astonishingly accurate our timepieces may be, they only measure a net - clock time - which we throw over the universe to make sense of it.

Einstein (I'm getting nervous here...) showed that time and space are relative to each other (I think - didn't he?) and that if you travel away from home at light-speed, when you get back you'll have aged at a completely different rate from those you left behind. i.e. they'll be dead, and you'll still be young (though possible also dead from trying to travel that fast. I digress, sorry.)

So - how can time be an absolute? And even if it were, our perception of it, the way we actually live in it, is very relative.

Then there's the paradox of the present. It's all that exists, it contains the past and the future - memories of times gone by are events in the present - yet how long IS the present moment?

This stuff makes my head swim - which is good, because it encourages me to step outside of sequential event-type time, allow the train of thoughts about past and future to subside, and spend a little time in the NOW.

I've come across a website, "Wildmind," which could be a very useful resource for anyone in search of the general benefits of spending at least part of each day entirely in the present moment. It has some Buddhist names, terminology and concepts - which is OK by me, because that's where the mindfulness meditation thing comes from, but might put some people off. I hope not, because in any case, some of the articles to be found in it are entirely free of such specialist background. Here are links to a couple of articles about meditation, the present moment, and the strange reality of NOW.

Finally for this post: TS Eliot may have looked and sounded like a slightly prissy bank manager of the old school, but his insights into meditation and into time itself seem to me profound and valuable. This bit of the "Four Quartets" is pretty well-known, but if you stop and let it sink in...

“Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.”

Time is unredeemable, so only the present truly exists, vanishing as soon as it arrives....


  1. Having just returned from a week's holiday, where living in the moment was the order of the day, your post was really interesting and, dare I say, timely!
    Here's a question - why is it that the more time-saving devices flood the market and our homes, the less time we seem to have? (Not actually expecting you to answer that! More of a whine on my part...)

  2. Pleased to hear you had what sounds like just the right sort of holiday break, Nicola, and thanks for coming by.
    I actually think that's quite a profound question, because it relates to how we do and do not live in the present moment. It seems to be something to do with heaping up our expectations and plans. Perhaps being in the moment with whatever we are doing, whatever we have to do, reduces the sense of haste and hurry. Maybe those machines don't necessarily save us a large amount of time after all. And we have to spend at least some time attending to them e.g. me and this word-processing computer the other day. Most of the day down the pan.

    Using machines to get through the day more quickly avoids some lengthy and unpleasant chores, sure, but it also leaves us with more time to pack with other, "more important," things.

    Hence perhaps the backlash from the Slow Food movement, the current fascination with baking, even, maybe, cycling - it's not quicker, but it is a real journey, through an environment with which we are in touch. (Sometimes unpleasantly and dangerously so, but that's part of the reality.) Bikers of all sorts are much more "in" their journey than car drivers. I used to commute an hour each day and would sometimes drive - apparently perfectly safely - and arrive without noticing a thing, for most of the (motor-) way. If you rode a bike like that, you'd complete your journey in an ambulance.

    Us car drivers are half-asleep and deluded about our speed, general situation, our danger to others, so comfortable and remote are we. You bikers are either working your bodies hard to get where you want to go, or driving a powered machine that demands total consistent concentration. You know what 60 mph feels like, from the wind in your face.

    So the feeling that we have less time must, I feel, be to do with passing over the NOW for the next thing that must be done. "Festina lente," the Romans used to say (according to a teacher at my school), i.e. "Hasten slowly." Simple, but quite profound, I think. Purposeful, fully conscious, and in the moment may get us to the right place sooner than buzzing ahead half-aware of where we are NOW, worrying, planning, fending off the non-existent threat, devising scripts and dialogues for what might, only might happen, worrying about what we didn't do in a past we can't change....

    Well, how could I resist a lame effort to address the question? It's too interesting to leave alone!

  3. Ooh good answer... AND you talk about one of my favourite things in life – the good old bicycle! When I was a youngster (many moons ago) I used to cycle to school every day, rain or shine. None of this being driven to school nonsense. So when I left school, it was, inevitably, all about the driving lessons and the longed-for car. So I didn't own my own bike again until I was 32.
    And, you know, something amazing happened when I got in that saddle. A huge smile spread across my face and I could feel my little soul lifting with every turn of the wheels. I felt like a child again but in just the best way ever! It was like an adventure – me, my bike and the world to discover. And ten year's on from that, I am as much in love with cycling as I ever was, and for the very reasons you mention. You do 'hasten slowly' on a bike. You are moving but you're sitting down at the same time (unless it's a really big hill then I might have to stand up), taking it all in, senses a-go-go. I could go on, and on, and on...
    But I'll just put the brakes on my two-wheeled wonderings for now. Thanks GM! Nothing 'lame' in your answer whatsoever... x