Monday, 15 August 2016

Afflictions of the Mind : Part -2 (The Trick of Time)

Persistence of memory - Salvador Dali


2. The Trick of Time

We have already seen how the Mind employs a neat trick to put all the experiences in an easily accessible sequence. It uses an axis called time and marks the events on it. Experiences happen, they don’t come with a time stamp attached to them, the Mind adds the stamp. It makes the experiences more organized and their recall (simulation via impressions) easier. Whenever there is a change, there is an experience, or we can as well define an experience as Change (which we have already done, see Experiencing). So change is more fundamental. Some changes happen at seemingly regular fashion, such as change of a day into night, orbit of the earth around the Sun and vibrations of atoms. This allows us to compare an irregular change with regular one, and we can express the irregular change in terms of regular one. Thus the Physical Time is born, which is just a regular change, it is not an entity, as it does not exists as such, its merely a concept. We use devices, clocks, to count the regular changes. Comparing an irregular experience with the counts of a clock immediately gives more information about the change, and the concepts of slow or fast are created. Now we can stamp a number on an event, making it even more structured. Physical time is derived from physical changes that happen around us, but there is another time – the Subjective Time, which is based on mental changes, and has no correspondence with physical one [3].

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In my experience, every change, every experience, every event, every recall is seen in now – the timeless background of change. I’m sure, its your experience too, and perhaps everyone else’s. So why are we so adamant about the idea that everything happens in time, and there is some mythical universal clock out there that is keeping all the time? Its merely conditioning [1]. We are actually incapable of organizing our experiences without time, I feel helpless when I try to write something without putting it in temporal context. Our languages are time based. Our thoughts are also somewhat time based, as we use memory a lot while thinking. I can’t help but use words like – happening, event, occurring etc etc to describe nonexistence of time, which is illogical, as it is assumes time in the first place. Our societies, actions, education, jobs, and entire lives are time based. There are apparently three kinds of time – past, present and future. If an experience is derived from memory, it gets a stamp of past, if its derived from senses, it is stamped as present and if it is an extrapolation of events (imagination) it is future. So we see that there is no past, present or future as such, these are mere ideas used to categorize an experience. The future is thus, just a projection of the past. The past is just memory. There was no time in the past and there will be none in the future [2].

Time does not exist independently of ourselves, it is simply an illusion and measurement of our minds and body’s perceptions.
- David Lewis Anderson

Time is an illusion, however, it is very useful. It is not possible for a human mind to conduct its affairs without it. It has survived because it has survival value. It helps to know that there will probably a winter season ahead (or a dry season), when food will be scarce, so one can stock it up. It helps to recall the past attack of a predator and take a different route home. Those who did not do so, did not survive for long. So when does it become an affliction? When one becomes a slave of time, instead of an user of time. Time controls the lives of many people, who become clockwork themselves while following the clock very-very strictly. Right from getting up from the sleep, eating, using bathrooms, going for work, having tea, and what not, to the exact time of going to sleep – all of it is governed by clock for such people. Such people want their entertainment on a specific day at a specific time, their news on time and even plan their marriages and babies to happen on specific times. They can be recognized easily, as they spend most of their time looking at their clocks. For them there is never enough time and everything must be done now, else it’s a waste of time. Entire societies and cultures have become a slave of time. This is something to ponder upon.

Modern man thinks he loses something - time - when he does not do things quickly. Yet he does not know what to do with the time he gains -- except kill it.
- Erich Fromm
Actually punctuality is seen as a “good” quality by the society, sign of a disciplined mind. And one would ask what is wrong in being so, it makes things so easy and predictable if every one of us behaves synchronously. Of course, whenever a social situation demands a strict time schedule, one must follow it, and that is desirable, however, one needs to draw a line where the whole time madness ends, the freedom from time starts there. Those who live like a clockwork live a miserable life, a life where everything is rushed, everything is mechanical and events are just pushed into past from the future. For such people there is no present. Present time is just there to make space for future time, where the real things will be. Present becomes an anxiety. Such people spend their lives anticipating future while dwelling in the past. Their life is only their past – the things they did and the roles they played. There is nothing new in their lives, no spontaneity, no freedom.

Moreover, such people try to discipline others who are naturally inclined to be less dependent on time, who want to live in the present. When children are indoctrinated in such a way, they become dull, lifeless robots, having rigid minds and little creativity. Time becomes their prison. A person who always lives in the past or the future misses the life completely. Life happens now, past and future also happen now. Such people are always afraid of the future, seek the safety of the past, have little desire to change or improve and are mostly pessimistic. They tend to force others to conform to their own ways, resisting any novelty, any improvements, anything that is not so predictable.

So the obvious question arises, how to be free from the illusion of time? It is not possible to simply make time vanish, as it is an essential structure in the Mind. If one wishes to play the game of human life, one must respect the rules of the game, and one of them is - everything happens and seen as happening in the framework of time. It is wise not to destroy this framework, but to use it effectively. It is wise to be aware of how time is created by the Mind, and to not to regard it as a fundamental entity one can experience. One cannot experience time, but only the change in contents of the Mind, this should be very clear. Once this is clear and perceived, time changes, it no longer controls us, we control it or rather we allow it. Now the events just happen, they need not happen on a specific time. Time happens on a specific event.

How to use time effectively? A seeker needs to be very practical about time, even after it is seen for what it is. Seeing that human life is limited in time, this experience of life doesn't last forever, one must do his best to not to waste time. However, one cannot be very rigid about it. If an activity takes you forward on your path, it is correct use of the time, else it is a waste. This is the rule of thumb. It may not be possible to follow it very strictly, as external events that result in a waste of time are mostly not in our control, but some effort must be made to utilize the time available for oneself. The path of knowledge requires practice, and practice requires time. The more time one can spare for practices, faster is the progress. 

So much of our time is spent in preparation, so much in routine, and so much in retrospect, that the amount of each person's genius is confined to a very few hours.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
How to have more time? It all starts after the path is clearly seen. Once one knows the goals, one can set priorities. Do the stuff that matters most first. What matters most are the actions that result in a fast progress. Actions that are not contributing towards progress are simply a waste of time. Some actions required for day to day survival must be performed, but those can be minimized easily. Simplifying life helps in it. A job which devours most of your day, relations which  demand a 24x7 presence, objects and belongings that need a lot of maintenance, social events that eat up all your free time, distractions that simply slow you down - all these need to be gotten rid of. A simple life, pure life, a life full of contentment, will naturally provide an abundance of time for your practice. It is not recommended to cut down the time spent on necessary activities like sleep (is it an activity?), entertainment, study and some socializing. Isn't that a waste too? Too much of it is a waste. Life is an experience, and we naturally seek pleasant experiences, so there should be enough such experiences, else life becomes dull and miserable, especially when you have not yet mastered the path. Some travel, parties, celebrations, etc are an essential part of life experience. Too much or too little - not recommended. Once one progresses on the path, one naturally needs less and less external pleasures, as the source of happiness lies within, not outside.

If you have a job which pays more but takes up the major portion of your day or requires long commuting, travels or tours, then you need to re-prioritize things. Oh, a high paying job is your path? Well, nothing wrong in that... but you are on a wrong blog then. If you are spending time on cooking elaborate lunches, spend two hours eating it, cleaning a pile of dishes twice a day, arranging a score of stuff in house everyday, washing and maintenance,  long sessions of gossip and phone calls, shopping for the next shiny thing or fad, too much entertainment, too many relations and visits by relatives who take up all your free time and vacations, and many countless such activities, that are a hallmark of our "modern lifestyle" - you are not on a path, and this blog should be useless for you. If you still feel you are on a path while you have such a lifestyle, then not only you are wasting your time, your life, you have no chance of making any intentional progress at all.

When you are on a path, you can only use time to organize your life, you cannot be controlled by it. When you see that all is well organized and nothing important needs to be done, you can let go of the time. The Self knows no time, when it is with itself, it is timeless. It is possible to be like so while living a normal life. When you are aware of the processes of the Mind that create this illusion, you are freed from it, and you clearly understand why others behave the way they do in regard to time, then you are freed from the need to judge them, control them. The life becomes a spontaneous flow, a continuous change rather than a struggle with time.



[1] There are interesting studies that show how the perception of time differs with cultures and societies. If you are in India, for example, the time becomes a very fuzzy thing and for most people it means very little. Everything flows in a leisurely way, and events happen when they are supposed to happen, not very dependent on clocks. Commitments about time are rarely kept. This causes minor problems like small projects taking 20 years to complete and meetings that take one hour to start because people don’t feel any need to arrive on time. Even trains don’t arrive on time and flights don’t take off on their scheduled times. This is of course normal for an Indian, but others, especially westerners find it very confusing.

[2] Much can be said about the origin of the concept of the time. There are good books and studies about it. It does look like it has an evolutionary origin, just like most of the characteristics of the Mind. Some animals (such as migratory birds, and hoarders like rats) also behave as if they are planning for the future and are aware of the time. But it may not be so, the “time” for them is not a concept, just a hardwired program. In humans, the temporal programs have evolved to a higher level, obviously, so much so that time is now our “reality”.

[3] Western philosophy is full of discussions about time. In my opinion, Kant comes closest to the modern understanding of time. Quoting from here:

Immanuel Kant, in the Critique of Pure Reason, described time as an a priori intuition that allows us (together with the other a priori intuition, space) to comprehend sense experience. With Kant, neither space nor time are conceived as substances, but rather both are elements of a systematic mental framework that necessarily structures the experiences of any rational agent, or observing subject. Kant thought of time as a fundamental part of an abstract conceptual framework, together with space and number, within which we sequence events, quantify their duration, and compare the motions of objects. In this view, time does not refer to any kind of entity that "flows," that objects "move through," or that is a "container" for events. Spatial measurements are used to quantify the extent of and distances between objects, and temporal measurements are used to quantify the durations of and between events.

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