Being Means Being in Time
A sense of being involves a degree of separateness from the rest of the world. After all, the verb “to exist” literally means to stand out. When you are present, your awareness of your own existence happens against the backdrop of time. Recall that time is really just perception of change, of processes, of movement, of information flow. So, to be, we have to experience ourselves as apart from all this flow. Being is a contrast between our subjective permanence and the objective impermanence of everything that is around us, between our (subjective) timelessness and the constant timing (changing) of reality outside of us. Like stillness, being exists in contrast with movement. When we experience ourselves, there is a feeling that while we are fundamentally the same from a moment to moment, the world outside of us is changing. We begin to be. We feel reborn. We pop out of the incessant stream of associative and conditioned thinking and mindless behavior. We reconnect with that immutable sense of am-ness. No longer lost in the world, we begin to experience ourselves in a relationship with it. We begin to register the experience. We remember that we are alive. We feel glad that we woke up and marvel at how time has slipped away. Thus, to be, we have to slow down enough to notice ourselves being in time.
Mindlessness Is a Lapse of Time
How often have you looked back at the past week and couldn’t remember it? Sure, you can look through your daily planner and even come up with an alibi if you needed to. But don’t all these memories seem void of that first-person experience of being there? It’s as if you know you did this or that, but you don’t have the memory of experiencing it. Mindlessness is a time lapse.
Timefulness of Mindfulness
The author James Austin, a neurologist, contrasts ordinary sitting with sitting in mediation (zazen). He notes that “ordinary” sitting, in retrospect, “shrinks the estimate of time.” “[T]hirty seconds of real time contract so that they seem to last only twenty six seconds,” whereas “during zazen, meditators tend to expand their estimates of time … thirty seconds of real time now seem to last thirty seven seconds” (2001, 563). Why would that be? Meditators, unlike “ordinary” sitters, sit in a state of mindful observation of what is, paying attention, encoding more experience and thus getting more life out of the same thirty seconds than the rest of us. The more experience you pack into a period of time, the longer the period of time feels when you look back at it. Mindfulness is, thus, timefulness.
Timelessness of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is also timelessness. After you spend a whole day in mindless frenzy and look back, it feels like time slipped through your fingers. But while you are moving through this frenzied day, you are constantly checking time, racing and waiting, racing and waiting (on the kettle to boil, on the kids to get dressed, on the car in front of you to turn). This is the experience of time in the rat race: while you’re in it, time races and drags; and when you look back, you wonder where the time has gone. If you are approaching the day with attention, mindfulness, and presence, you feel timeless as you move through your day. Timelessness isn’t when time stops. Timelessness is when you stop paying attention to time. When you’re mindfully engaged in reality, you ignore time; you are just doing what you’re doing. And when you look back at the day, you see a long fruitful span of meaning and presence, full of encoded experiences. That’s what I call a healthy relationship with time.
Pavel Somov, Ph.D. is the author of "Eating the Moment" (New Harbinger, 2008), "Present Perfect" (NH, 2010), and "The Lotus Effect" (NH, 2010). He is in private practice in Pittsburgh, PA. For more information visit www.eatingthemoment.com and sign up for Pavel Somov's monthly "Mindful-not-Mouthful" Newsletter