Living in the Light of the Absolute, or Time and How it Gets That Way (9.27.08)
I forget. Have we discussed the nature of time yet, except in passing? It seems that we’ve been skirting around the topic for the last dozen or so posts, and you may have noticed that my Minister of Doctrinal Enforcement has made several cogent comments about it. Perhaps it is time to evade the issue head on.
Let us begin with a bobservation from a while back, when I wrote that:
“To beat this conundrum, you must understand the distinction between time and eternity. Eternity is not time everlasting, but timelessness. Time and eternity are actually aspects of one another--they are dialectically related. In one sense, time may be thought of as the serial deployment of something that lies outside time. Thus, eternity is not located in the past or future, because no matter how far you go, you are still dealing with chronological time. Rather, the only possible place it could be is now--not in a temporal now, but an eternal now. As it so happens, the mysterious now, so inexplicable in terms of any model physics has ever come up with, is the intersection of time and eternity, and human beings are the self-aware locus where this occurs--where the vertical meets the horizontal.
“So much trouble is caused by our reliance upon language, which, in its superficial sense, is geared to the problems of matter, not consciousness, much less the ground of consciousness. We often mistake a deficiency of language for a key to truth. In order to discuss these deeper ontological questions, language must be deployed in a special, nonlinear, non-dualistic and poetic way. I attempted to achieve this in my book, whether successfully or unsuccessfully I cannot say (at least for others--it works for me). The ground of existence may be ineffable, but not completely uneffin' believably so.”
Clearly, time is at the heart of the mystery of existence. In fact, time is indistinguishable from existence, which is one of the things that makes it so difficult to describe. And yet, to a certain extent, you must be outside or “above” time in order to perceive it, which in itself provides a key to the mystery. After all, animals are just as much entangled in time as we are, except that they don’t know it. Why? Because an animal is incapable of lifting itself above its own subjectivity, while humans are specifically capable of objectivity. We can “see” time “passing” so to speak, just as we can sit here on this bank of sand with Bob Dylan and watch the river flow. Except that we are also floating on the river we observe, and the river doesn’t run in a straight liner but in circles within circles.
As above, so below. Just as the cosmos contains circles within circles--the rotating earth circling around a star inside a galaxy that is also a revolving and rotating spheroid--our lives consist of circular days within weeks within years within a full trip around the block called a natural lifetime. Esoterists believe that our lives consist of fractal time cycles of varying length, each a reflection of the other; thus, a lifetime can also be thought of as a day, with the morning of childhood, the day of youth, the evening of maturity, the twilight of old age, and the night-womb of death. Or our lives can be thought of as a year: spring, summer, autumn and winter.
But the ancients believed only in the closed circle of eternal return, not the line of growth, which is to say the open spiral. Here again, what distinguishes man is not that we are immersed in the cycles of time, but that we may utilize time to experience endless cycles of growth, or what I call inward mobility. Doing so is the whole point of your existence, assuming you belong to the contemplative or sacerdotal caste to whom I address my blog (most of my detractors are simply innocent members of other castes, i.e., menial or intellectual laborers, shopkeepers, craftsmen, administrators, servants, etc.).
Now, if you are like me--an interior cosmonaut or adventurer of consciousness--you most certainly do not measure your life against some worldly standard, but in the light of the Absolute.
Let me back up a bit. A couple of weeks ago I made a rash statement to the effect that I had abandoned the monastic “ascending” approach that had guided my spiritual practice for some ten years, in favor of a “descending” bobhisattvic approach. That’s true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t really go very far in describing the sort of person I'm not. In fact, my Minister of Doctrinal Enforcement immediately corrected me--I forget what he said exactly--but it was something to the effect that we must always be grateful to the spiritual hermit who gives his life entirely to God and blazes a trail from time to eternity for the rest of us.
For I actually try, insofar as it is possible, to spend as much timelessness in eternity as I can, given the constraints of worldly existence. I was recently discussing this with a friend in a different context. I was trying to explain to him, without success, that there is no such thing as “quality time” with a child, only quantity time in which you will have randomly magical moments of quality timelessness, which is to say, eternity. It is my belief that the concept of quality time was simply invented by guilty parents to convince themselves that they do not have to put in the quantity of time it takes to nurture a deep and profound relationship with your child. It is really a statement about how people still deprive children of their innate dignity and stature. After all, assuming you love your spouse, you don’t just give them an hour of “quality time” here and there and hope for the best.
Well, it’s the same with the Divine, don’t you know. This, of course, is the limitation of churchianity, in which you spend 60-90 minutes per week of quality time with God, or even meditation, in which you spend 20 or 30 minutes a day with him. Doesn’t really work, in my opinion. You and God need some quantity time to really get to know one another.
Now, this is somewhat easy for me to say, because I long ago made a crucial decision that worldly success meant nothing to me if it would deprive me of the time and space I would require to embark on a feckless Adventure of Consciousness. Thus, as long ago as high school, I thought to myself, “I have no idea what I want to do in terms of a career, but whatever it is, it cannot be a normal nine to five full time job working for someone else. The Subgenius must have Slack." Believe it or not, I have kept to this vow. With a few exceptions, I have avoided full time work my entire life.
Or at least paid work. In fact, I am always working, except that those without eyes--say, my in-laws--can’t necessarily see it. For Bob is never doing so much as when it looks as if he is doing nothing. As I have had occasion to mention several times in the past, certain members of other castes might look at my life and conclude that old Head-in-Clouds has a pretty boring existence.
But nothing could be further from the truth. From where I sit, I am embarked on the adventure of a lifetime, except that it is an interior adventure whose progress is measured in light of the absolute, not by some relative external standard. A good day at the office is a day in which I have made progress towards that nonlocal goal, and shared the joy with others. A bad day is one in which I have been pulled away from the center and origin because of some worldly obligation or other exigency. But outward appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, I am always doing something: tilling the soil, planting seeds, fertilizing, pulling weeds, topping the leaves, smoking them, etc.
Now, broadly speaking, there are four kinds of men: pneumatic man, intellectual man, emotional or vital man, and the man of action. And there is an appropriate practice for each--or raja, jnana, bhakti, and karma yogas, which any full-service religion will offer. Each type of yoga, in its own way, tries to provide an appropriate means for experiencing eternity within time. To live “within” religion is to find a way to be, or think, or feel, or act within eternity.
Now, no one has been more shocked than I have about what happens when you begin “thinking” within religion, because to a certain extent, this blog is nothing more or less than that. Like so many people in the modern west, I started off in a place that pretty much equated religion and ignorance. But as it so happens, knowledge of religion is knowledge that is both fruitful and efficacious, not to say transformational. It is nothing at all like “book learning,” or mere mental knowledge. If we grasp religion only with the mind, it is not really "interior" knowledge to which we may validly lay claim.
With the type of thinking I am describing, one is vaulted, so to speak, into a different space, the space from which the primordial mystery perpetually arises. What I have discovered, to my everlasting surprise, is that once in this space, one finds that it actually has its own very real characteristics and attributes. I know this because every day I receive confirmation from fellow explorers who see and experience the same thing. It's as if we are all setting voyage into an unknown sea but all returning with vaguely similar--sometimes strikingly so--descriptions of the flora and fauna on the other side. I can only reemphasize that this is most mysterious indeed.
Look at it this way. Europe only made its way westward to the New World in 1492. The westward exploration continued until the late nineteenth century, when the external frontier was closed. Thus the exploration began delving "within" matter and time with Einstein's revolution, outward into space, and back to the origins of the material universe with big bang cosmology. The detailed exploration of the unconscious only got underway with the publication of Freud's Interpretation of Dreams in 1900. 21st century spirituality will provide the opportunity for more people to embark on the interior journey, thus situating their lives within the grand evolutionary epic in which we are the central players. If that doesn't happen, then earth will be in for a very bumpy ride.
To summarise: time is not actually possible without eternity, but evolution is not possible without time. Therefore, there is a need to be saved from our apparent separation from the eternal, as we engage in our evolutionary sprint from monkey mind to divine mind. This salvolution perennially occurs in the eternal ground in which we participate at our deepest level. We may be sons of God "through adoption," and thereby be saved from the ravages of time, here and now. We may make the eternal present in us. But it must be "realized” in order to be effective.
The fully realized person has reversed the fall, or turned figure and ground (or time and eternity, absolute and relative) inside out and upside down. He has reversed the vector flow that misleadingly draws consciousness down and out to the terminal more and moraine of the senses. In short, he has realized that the cosmos is tree with its roots aloft, its branches down here below. And it is a Tree of Life for those whose wood beleaf. So don’t be an existential sap. Stop time before it stops you!
What is intelligibly diverse must be unified and whole, and only what is whole and unified can be intelligibly diverse. At the same time, only what is diversified can be intelligibly one.... The reality of time, therefore, establishes concurrently the reality of a whole which is nontemporal.... Time without eternity is strictly inconceivable. --Errol Harris
Time is the substance of which I am made. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which mangles me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges. --Jorge Luis Borges
The mysterious now is the universal ordering principle which embodies the "processual flow" of eternity into serial structure. It is in this sense that human observers give rise to the cosmos that spawned them, and are the irreducible unit of there being a cosmos at all. --Petey
I have escaped and the small self is dead;
I am immortal, alone, ineffable;
I have gone out from the universe I made,
And have grown nameless and immeasurable.
I have become what before Time I was.
My heart is a centre of infinity
A momentless immensity pure and bare,
I stretch to an eternal everywhere. --Sri Aurobindo
Returning to the Oneself, borne again
To the mysterious mamamatrix of our birthdeath,
Our winding binding river of light
Reaches its deustinocean. --L. Bob Gagdad
If you want to enjoy the springtime of Eternal Slack, you can't be ruled by the colander.