Time, timelessness and eternity are often portrayed as mysterious and ambiguous concepts, experientially unattainable or even illusory. This post is my attempt to remove this mystique and provide a very matter of fact account of time and the experience of timelessness, an often sought after goal of the meditator.
I was once confused but simultaneously fascinated about time and desperately wanted to experience what I thought was the ultimate freedom of timelessness, although I had no idea really, what that was. Now, however, I view time as being no more mysterious than distance. Time can be measured as clearly and as objectively as distance. Time can be measured in seconds and hours; distance can be measured in centimetres and metres. Distance is a measurement of the gap between objects; time is a measurement of the gap between events. Distance is a measurement of space; time is a measurement of change.
So far, so simple, yet this for me was the beginning of a critical realisation: change is fundamental and undeniable; time is nothing more than a way to measure change. We experience change and we can choose to measure change by setting up a regular changing mechanism to compare it by, and this measurement is time. The confusion and mystery over time largely comes, I believe, from using the word time when we really mean change. So this definition of time, as nothing more than a way to measure change, means we can move forward with greater clarity.
It can be said that although change is always happening, we create or define time when we choose to measure change. Space is always there but distance is created or defined when we choose to measure space. One simple definition of timelessness could then simply be choosing not to measure change.
But this is just one aspect of time and space, the so called objective aspect. What of the subjective experience of time? Again we can simplify things here with the analogy of distance. We can guess a distance just as we can guess a period of time and these guesses will vary from person to person and from context to context. Our subjective experience of a distance travelled can vary hugely, so too that for time. Walking an unknown path can seem so much further than a familiar route; time flies when we are having fun and drags when we are bored. No mystery here either, so let’s move on.
So finally the experience of timelessness or eternity. Eternity has been defined as being, not a very very long time, but as being no time. So what does this mean? In this context it is clearer to refer to change not time. The experience of timelessness or eternity is the experience of no change; this is a much more profound concept than not experiencing time, the measurement of change.
Is it possible to experience changelessness? And if so, how do we do it? The method that I have found most productive is to become the observer of change. It seems that the best way to go beyond something is to become completely and totally aware of it. The same principle works with sounds: when I become totally aware of all the sounds that I can here I simultaneously begin to experience a deep quietness and pervasive silence that encompasses all sounds. Similarly when I become completely attentive to the body and all physical sensations, I can begin to feel like I am detached from the body and I experience a deep stillness.
So by simply being aware of change, the passing of time and events, with great attention, I begin to feel a changelessness or timelessness, a touch of eternity.
So in summary, time is no more mysterious than a ruler and eternity no less attainable than the experience of stillness and quietness.
One thought on “Demystifying eternity”
‘Observing change’ perhaps need a bit more explaining. It means something to me and encapsulates what I do when I sit and practise but that of course doesn’t necessarily mean it makes sense to anyone else. I’ll try and say it in other words.
Really it is no different to any mindfulness practise in that the changes I can be observing are sounds, physical sensations and thoughts. So the only difference is the attitude or approach I have whilst doing this.
My intention is to be aware of any or all of these things as examples of things changing and so because I am contextualising all the sounds and sensations etc as changes then my experience is of letting these changes pass by and then in my mind the mindful experience becomes one I describe to myself as changelessness or timelessness.
I think what we experience in mindfulness is in essence basically the same but can be described in a multitude of ways according to our vocabulary, expectations and previous experiences. Finding the right intention for a practise and the right description for an experience can really help in becoming absorbed more easily.
So simply be aware of any or all of the things that are happening in each moment and notice how, as the moments pass, all these things are changing and see if an experience of being beyond change creeps up on you.