Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I wrote this 7 months ago.  I'm about to get into a book that will help me see these topics more clearly, but I haven't read it yet.  My thoughts on the following keep evolving, but here's what is done:

Time is a funny thing.  Lately I've been feeling like time is moving so slowly.  Something will have happened and I will think of it as happening weeks ago, though it has only been a few days.  That's great when I'm enjoying the weekend, but it sucks when I'm waiting for something.  The moments and days creep by, and yet I'm bemused by the arrival of June, it seems to have come so fast.

I'm intrigued by time perception.  What makes the days seem like lifetimes when we are young and what changes as we age to make them fly us by?  Maybe our perception of time isn't the issue.  Maybe the issue is time itself. 

Is the future out of our reach?  Is now all we have?  Is the past the past?  Can we know?  I guess these answers lie in the answer to the question What is time?

Four or five years ago, when I lived in LA, I lived about 4 blocks from a glorious entertainment and shopping complex, including a Barnes & Noble... 

...Hmmm, now that I mention it, I wish to diverge:  There was a mall with everything you could want (except Banana Republic, which I usually went to Glendale for), three AMC movie theaters with a combined 30 screens, a shopping street with boutiques, restaurants, and an Urban Outfitters, and 2 Starbucks stores book-ending the magnificence, not to mention my gym, the police station, and a post office.  Burbank, CA, where roses grow like weeds, is freaking perfect...  (See Ayne, I'm a consumerist-materialist-shame of a pseudo-hippie.)

Anyway, I was childless and, especially during the Hollywood writer's strike, I had some leisure time on my hands.  I had Natalia next door and 5 cats between us, but all 6 of them preferred to stay home.  I spent hours at that Barnes & Noble perusing the shelves and sipping my chai at the cafe, where I had to endure the baristas' constant deviations from the Starbucks chai latte recipe.  I read lots of Tom Robbins, Jane Austen, Philip Pullman, Stephen King, and various fantasy collections.  That Starbucks cafe is also where I met my Eastern European stalker.  I'm too friendly to strangers, maybe, or perhaps he mistook my affability for flirtation.  This guy sitting at the next table was studying for his pharmaceutical examinations.  He turned to talk to me and comment on my selections, which at the time were several books concerning time, including Einstein's Relativity: The Special and the General Theory, and Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, and several others concerning spirituality and philosophy.  Time and matters of the spirit.  (For one to divine their own spirituality, which I have done constantly since college, I think one must also attempt to develop an understanding of time, and decide what they believe time is in itself and in relation to how we perceive reality.)  Well, I told him all about what I was reading and the nature of the conclusions I hoped to glean about the nature of time and how it relates to our lives.  I couldn't help but notice that every single time I went to Barnes & Noble after that, he was there.  Opening at 11am or closing at 11pm, he was there.  It didn't matter when I went, and every time he would come over and tell me all about how much money he was going to make as a pharmacist.  So, of course, I took different routes home, watching my back (as I caught him following me out a time or two, at which time I walked right up to him and asked him where he was off to), and avoided my beloved personal library for weeks.  (I'm not only a loiterer, I bought plenty of stuff, too ;-) )

What did I learn about time?  Did I find out what it is?  I wish I had those books in front of me, but they are not at my disposal.

What do I remember?  I learned what a few people think about it, at least.  I don't think that there is one clear perspective of time that permeates science and culture, despite a consensus among scholars from several fields that time is temporal and illusory.  People are still figuring it out, and maybe it's one of those unanswerable questions.  I didn't have to turn to a book by Einstein because time is simple.  I couldn't very well rely on Madeleine L'Engle's explanation.  Time is a very complicated thing, as demonstrated by the self destructive human tendency to live anywhere but now, and by the ongoing debates between the most brilliant scientists to ever live and die. 

There is a difference between being aware of something and actually understanding it.  I think we all ebb and flow in our understanding of our own essence, nature, and purpose, and when I have taken the time to ponder that fluctuation, I find that my indecisiveness and uncertainty is directly related to my lack of a solid handle on time. 

I think the primary motivating factor of our thoughts and emotions is time, a thing that we don't really understand.  Most of the things we do in the present, we do because we assume we have a future.  Here comes the cliche, What would you do if you absolutely knew you were going to die tomorrow, or next month, or next year?  Your thoughts and emotions and all of your subsequent actions would probably change pretty dramatically in relation to your new perception of time.  The change would happen all because of your perception of the time you have, or the time you lack.  And what for the past?  It makes us think, cry, laugh, reflect, learn, grow...  Again, our thoughts and emotions from memories arise out of our perception that those times are gone. 

Sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down.  Either end of the flux can create a muddied perspective that clouds one's abilities of self reflection.  So, it's the up and the down that creates resistance and therefore a state of dissatisfaction.  The ups and downs happen in time, and if you believe time to be on a line, then that can be very depressing because it's easy to see our now as very limiting.  Something that has already happened is gone forever.  It's very permanent.  Sometimes permanence is comforting.  Sometimes it's suffocating.  Everyone has been sad about something that happened.  Everyone.  ...The Dali Llama.  Jesus.  Harry Potter, if he existed.  (Wedding Crashers... anyone?)  Everyone has been anxious about something that might happen, or "will" happen.  Everyone. 

In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle says that nothing exists outside of the moment that is now.  It seems to make sense.  Now is all there is, right?  Memories and imaginings of the future exist only as chemicals and electricity in our brains, right?  Well, either we humans are really jacked up, having so much emotion about the past and future, which technically don't exist, or there is another answer.  What if those time are not gone?  What if it's all an illusion?

Einstein thought time was illusory.  If it's good enough for Einstein, it's good enough for me.  Einstein had a really great friend named Michele Besso.  At Besso's funeral, Einstein said, "Now Besso has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me.  That means nothing.  People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."  Einstein proved that time is relative.  That means it depends on where you're standing.  The truth of time that you experience depends on the angle, literally and figuratively, that you see it from. 

An aside... I met Einstein's great (or great, great) granddaughter at the Warner Bros. movie studio in Los Angeles.  She had a name tag on and I saw the last name "Einstein."  Sort of as a joke, I referred to her tag and said, "Einstein.  Any relation?"  She was really friendly and said that yes, she was his (some number of greats) granddaughter.  She had the crazy hair, too.  Maybe this is weird, but I told her that I had to touch her and I hugged her.  She was cool with it and really friendly.  Good hugger.

Eckhart Tolle's take, that nothing exists except now, is not mutually exclusive with the explanations of major physicists, because the physicists say that the past and future are illusions, and that everything that has ever been is now.  Following from Tolle's take, it's never our reality that causes us pain (or joy), it's the thoughts we attach to it.  When I went to Shikoku, I saw a Japanese girl carrying a bag; it said, "It's not where you are or who you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy.  It's what you think about it."  Some people's thoughts help them create success in their lives.  Other people's thoughts make them miserable and hold them back because the thoughts happen within a context of time, and their perception of their place in time is negative. 

Perhaps my view of time is not obviously practical, but it is also not self-servingly pragmatic.  I don't discount the pragmatic usefulness of a statement such as "the past is past."  But I am seriously adverse to excuses, and I can't separate the usefulness of the phrase from it's catalyst; some sort of event must have happened to elicit the utterance of such a statement as "the past is past", maybe some event so small that it's spoken as a trifle, or maybe something big, so that the statement becomes necessary to the future well being of the speaker.  It serves several functions, not least of which is the believer's ability to move on with their life once they accept that statement as an axiom.  Every single human being has experiences that tug on their hearts and imaginations, calling forth questions ranging from Have I ruined my life? to Well, what will I have for dinner now that this is charcoal?  The past is past:  He's gone.  The past is past:  Toast some new bread. 

Lots of questions. Amidst all of the questions and questing for the answers, it's good, in the mean time, to remember stuff like this quote from Einstein:  "In addition to all the ordinary and predictable events, like the sun rising in the morning, there is each day also a chance of something extraordinary happening."

Gonna go now.  Time has gotten away from me.

From Japan,


Nichole said...

Time is an interesting phenomenon I too have become lost in, especially since coming to Japan. It is amazing how having time causes us to think about it more whereas not having time causes us to wish simply for more. Very nice entry :-)

Nataila said...

Wonderful blog! Really makes you think and I love your ideas on this. I remember talking about all this when we lived next door to each other. Such amazing times! I like to believe that all time, past, present and future, are happening continuously in some place either here or in another universe or multi-verse! Forgive me but I just watched History Channels The Universe Parallel Universes. You would love it! So essentially we are still sitting together, having a nice lengthy chat on this subject with a glass of cabernet. Well at least somewhere in some place that is! I know this will make sense to you Tiff.... Love thinking about things that make your brain really stretch outside the box so thank you!