It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us.
What if time doesn’t exist? That’s a new question in physics that has become a hot topic. There are no viable theories about where time came from, which is a huge difficulty if you want to explain the universe. At the instant of the Big Bang space and time suddenly appeared, either out of nowhere or out of some complex “pre-reality” that is unimaginable. The only hope is to find a mathematical formulation that might or might not need for time to exist.
One thing seems certain—human beings will always need time to be real. The world and our everyday affairs run by the clock; we are born, mature, grow old, and die. Yet just as physics ponders the need for time, unable to unravel such an arcane problem, the Vedanta tradition of India solved the problem thousands of years ago. And unlike physics, the solution presented by Vedanta applies to everyone’s personal life, here and now.
Vedanta holds that everyone can choose between two things, time or the timeless. If you define yourself by choosing time, everything that comes with this choice falls upon you. We are all familiar with what this means. We run short of time. We don’t have enough time in the day. There is regret about adverse events in the past, which memory dredges up. Most importantly, if you define yourself through the passing of time, you are bound inside the scheme of birth, aging, and death.
Choosing time as your identity offers little leeway. Some people manage their time better than others, just as some people have fewer bad memories. The scheme of time, like a balloon, can be squeezed here and there to change its shape. The greatest changer is relativity, which allows for time to speed up and slow down. This happens “out there” in the universe, as explained by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, but subjective time, which happens “in here,” is also relative. That’s why time flies when you are having fun and drags when you are bored.
But what if our attempts to improve our lives are based on a wrong choice? To answer that question, a different choice would have to exist, which is where Vedanta expands our awareness, saying that there is and always has been another choice: the timeless. In every wisdom tradition time is seen as a losing game because everything undesirable in life, all forms of pain and suffering, occur in the scheme of time, and once they occur, many are irreversible. The worst rejection, failure, humiliation, disappointment, and trauma in our lives can’t be undone. The arrow of time, simply by moving events from A to B, from yesterday to tomorrow, is a kind of prison.
All the restrictions and drawbacks of time are resolved by choosing the timeless. The basis of Vedanta’s argument for the timeless is twofold. First, time emerges from consciousness. We experience this every morning when we wake up from a timeless state of consciousness, deep sleep, to a time-bound state, which we call normal waking consciousness. No one can live in the state of deep sleep, but it is possible to retain the timeless quality of deep sleep while being fully awake and alert.
The second basis for timeless awareness, which is connected to the first, is the primacy of consciousness—in other words, the one thing that matters is your state of awareness. Realizing that it is possible to be timeless, you consciously make this your priority. According to Vedanta, the vision of the timeless is the highest vision a person can live by. What if you adopted the vision of timelessness today? You would enter into a process that step-by-step begins to loosen the grip of time, in both large and small ways. As a result, your experience would shift.
As you can see, escaping the losing game that is time makes a significant difference. You don’t have to struggle to make any of these shifts because struggle is also time-bound. The only requirement is to discover the state of simple awareness. In simple awareness the mind is still, calm, open, and alert. You’ve experienced this state every time you are fascinated by something, and your attention is so focused that nothing intrudes on what you are experiencing. Glimpses of beauty, love, creativity, awe, wonder, and transcendence need simple awareness, because complicated awareness, which is filled with thoughts and impulses, blocks the purity of experience.
In a simple but lovely image from Vedanta, simple awareness is like seeing the full moon reflected on a perfectly calm lake. Being outside simple awareness is like seeing the moon’s reflection broken up by a lake whose water is choppy from the wind. There are many traditions of meditation and contemplative practices to settle the mind, but it’s important to realize that no effort is required, or any kind of esoterica. In its natural state, the mind settles down into simple awareness spontaneously.
You can aid your mind to seek simple awareness by sitting alone with eyes closed and taking a few deep breaths until you feel calmly relaxed. The place your attention in the region of your heart and breathe naturally, following your breath in and out. This exercise in centering is the most natural kind of meditation, and it takes almost no time. You can take a few minutes several times a day to center yourself. In this way your mind becomes trained to enter simple awareness as its default state.
The turning point isn’t contained in any meditation but in the vision of the timeless as a choice. You might never have heard about the choice to be timeless—most people haven’t—but until you know that you were designed to be timeless as a natural state of awareness, the full potential of being human cannot be realized.
Reprinted from San Francisco Chronicle with permission
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