And yet we know it’s all just one continuous unfolding as one day or year slips seamlessly into the next. This marking of time is an illusion and has no more weight than what we give it.
In reality, there’s just this present awareness of the here and now before it too dissolves into what we call the past and evolves into what call the future. But what we call the past and the future are just part of one continuous, seamless, whole.
What we experience as the passage of time is simply the process by which we come to know that wholeness—intimately, inch by inch—as it reveals itself to us through it unravelling. As if the totality of existence is one huge ball of yarn that we are experiencing as it unfolds, moment by moment. And yet we too are woven into that wholeness, each of us separately and together. And what we are witnessing is our own self-revealing.
Nothing we cherish is lost. Nothing we aspire toward is unfulfilled. It’s all part of the one Whole.
The longer I live, the more I see things this way, and see myself as an essential part of it—as ever fresh, and as ancient as time itself. A time out of mind, or mind out of time.
2022, I embrace all you revealed to me of what forever is.
2023, I welcome all you will unfold of what was and will be.
By now you’ve probably seen the stunning new images from the Webb Space Telescope, which takes us 13 billion years back in time. That’s 8 billion years before the Earth was born. We stand here now looking back at a time before there was ground to stand on, or a human consciousness to see or grasp anything at all. We are looking at a speck of sky no bigger than a grain of sand, they say, yet filled with millions of galaxies and trillions of stars, and who knows how many planets or moons or intelligent life-forms looking back. Only they wouldn’t see us. For we don’t exist yet.
It’s mind-boggling. And certainly puts the turmoil we’re experiencing here on Earth into a new perspective. No less urgent or relevant for our fire-fly timespans. But it points us away from the personal and relative “here and now” into one that is infinitely larger than our selves and the tiny blue marble we call home. Our “here and now” encapsulates not only the present moment but the “here and now” 13 billion years ago. We are the link that spans that distance through time and space. Our consciousness. Mine. Yours. Now. Enfolding all that. Surely it means something significant.
When we turn the eye inward rather than out, into the micro-universe of atoms and particles swirling inside us and everything that exits, we grasp a new paradox. Quantum physics has shown us that those inner worlds at the most infinitesimal level exist only as clouds of potentiality rather than as concrete substance. These clouds of potentiality only become “real”—that is, fixed in time and space—when observed. Unseen they exist only within a hazy realm of the possible.
In comparison to the infinite universe swirling around us and inside us, we humans may seem pathetically insignificant. Not worth a mention in the footnotes of atomic and astronomic legers of Science. And yet we seem to play an essential and outsized role.
Without the human mind to grasp the universe there would be no universe to be grasped. Our bodies may have been evolved from star-dust. But it’s our minds, our own conscious grasping of such, that moves “star-dust,” and all else, out of the realm of the potential and into the realm of the real.
Such is the circular and utterly paradoxical wonder of a world we live in.
Time-travelling—that’s what it feels like when listening to Erik Satie’s Gnossienne. When I close my eyes and let the music move me, I’m transported to faraway places and distant times. I can see the mist rising from the river, the arched bridges, the damp gray stones of gothic towers tilting toward sullen skies. I can feel the cool breath of the river, smell the sweet-dank dampness of rain-drenched streets, hear the clatter of distant hoofs on cobblestones. It’s almost as if I’ve entered some strangely familiar dreamscape, or the distant landscape of an idealized past.
These dark, insistent, melancholy notes play us and ply us across space and time in rapturous eloquence. It reminds us that we share so much of our common past, our common humanity, to the art and music and literature that inspires us.
I’m reminded of the short story “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Jorge Luis Borges, and this particular quote:
“This web of time – the strands of which approach one another, bifurcate, intersect or ignore each other through the centuries –embraces every possibility. We do not exist in most of them. In some you exist and not I, while in others I do, and you do not, and yet in others both of us exist. In this one, in which chance has favored me, you have come to my gate. In another, you, crossing the garden, have found me dead. In yet another, I say these very same words but am in error, a phantom Time is forever dividing itself toward innumerable futures. — Jorge Luis Borges, from “The Garden of Forking Paths,” Collected Fictions. (Penguin Books September 1, 1999) Originally published 1941.
And also, this from Rilke:
Even the past is still a being in the fullness of its occurrence, if only it is understood not according to its content but by means of its intensity, and we–members of a world that generates movement upon movement, force upon force, and seems to cascade inexorably into less and less visible things–we are forced to rely upon the past’s superior visibility if we want to gain an image of the now muted magnificence that still surrounds us today. — Rainer Maria Rilke, from “On Life and Living,” The Poet’s Guide to Life: The Wisdom of Rilke, ed. and trans. Ulrich Baer (Modern Library, 2005)
And finally, from a Nobel Prize winning physicist, this:
“This life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of the entire existence, but is in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is what the Brahmins express in that sacred, mystic formula which is yet really so simple and so clear: Tat tvam asi, this is you. Or, again, in such words as ‘I am in the east and in the west, I am below and above, I am this whole world’.
Thus you can throw yourself flat on the ground, stretched out upon Mother Earth, with the certain conviction that you are one with her and she with you. You are as firmly established, as invulnerable as she, indeed a thousand times firmer and more invulnerable. As surely she will engulf you tomorrow, so surely will she bring you forth anew to new striving and suffering. And not merely ‘some day’: now, today, every day she is bringing you forth, not once but thousands upon thousands of times, just as every day she engulfs you a thousand times over. For eternally and always there is only now, one and the same now; the present is the only thing that has no end.” ― Erwin Schrödinger,