Time Doesn’t Exist

Imagine the Earth devoid of human life, inhabited only by plants and animals. Would it still have a past and a future? Could we still speak of time in any meaningful way? The question “What time is it?” or “What’s the date today?” – if anybody were there to ask it – would be quite meaningless. The oak tree or the eagle would be bemused by such a question. “What time?” they would ask. “Well, of course, it’s now. The time is now. What else is there?”
Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

Time is an arbitrary, human construct. If it’s 9pm in Vancouver and midnight in New York, and I’m talking to a friend, it’s still the exact same moment. There’s that weird International Date Line that means Australia is a calendar day ahead of North America, but if I’m texting someone in Sydney, does that mean he’s actually living in the future? Of course not. (If that were true, I’d have raked in a fortune in lottery wins – and so would everyone else in the Northern Hemisphere.)

The Hebrew new year is in September, and we’re currently in the year 5775. For Muslims, New Year’s falls on the first day of the month of Muharram, which is a completely different paradigm than the (Catholic-based) Gregorian calendar. The Chinese New Year celebrating 4714 arrives next month. The Maori celebrate their new year with the rise of a certain constellation in the summer  – and it’s worth noting that none of these falls on a specific day every year.

Even the division of time into 60-second minutes, 60-minute hours, 24-hour days is arbitrary. For a while, in 18th century post-revolution France, weeks were 10 days long, and days were 10 hours of 100 minutes each, which in turn had 10,000 seconds. People freaked out in 2012, believing the Mayans had literally predicted the end of the world, rather than the evolution to a higher stage of human consciousness (their time measurements are a whole other story).

Time doesn’t exist. The only moment that actually exists is right now.

Sure, our New Year celebrates another circle around the sun, and maybe a few more lines on our faces. But every moment is a new moment. It’s Happy New Year every single second (or millisecond). One of my definitions of enlightenment is the ability  to live in that way, to experience every moment anew, as though everything were being experienced for the first time. (That’s how I felt during my bliss episode). But of course, to function in Western society, we also need things like memory and the ability to plan and schedule. Otherwise, meeting a friend for coffee would be terribly… random.

Just before my first Dark Night, the one during which I went off meds, I met a man named Kevin, who told me he had a spiritual awakening while sitting on a dock: Suddenly he saw, in three distinct spheres, that everything that has ever happened and will ever happen…is happening now. (The middle sphere was what he perceived as the present.)

That sounds kind of trippy, even to me. That would mean that the present is influencing the past, which I can’t quite wrap my head around. Yet one of the limitations of the human mind is that we simply don’t know what it is we don’t know. It’s entirely possible that’s happening and we don’t understand it.

I use what Tolle calls “clock time” as little as possible. I discovered that having clocks all over the place increased my anxiety. I paid attention to time because it was always staring me in the face (despite the clocks in question never quite agreeing with each other). I’d wake up in the middle of the night and stare at the bright blue lines on my clock, watching the lines change and feeling increasingly anxious about returning to sleep. During the day, clocks became a reminder of what I wasn’t getting done. This began to bother me, because I can only accomplish what I can accomplish – the clock itself wasn’t going to make me go any faster or slower. So I got rid of them.

An awareness of time passing often creates anxiety and stress, because we live in a goal-oriented (mind-dominated) culture that says, “What have you accomplished today?” Which, on the one hand, is illogical (we can accomplish whatever we can accomplish; the presence of a clock doesn’t change that), and on the other hand is based on a false premise – that what we do is more important than the act of being. Of living each moment.

Granted, with a phone and my computer, I can always check the time; the difference is that I have the option; it’s not staring me in the face. I only set an alarm when I absolutely have to; I trust my body’s wisdom to let me know when it’s had enough rest. As you’ll see throughout the rest of this site (as the blog unfolds), I live as much as possible according to my body’s rhythms and not according to clocks.

There are two areas in which I’m beholden to time: bus schedules, because I don’t drive, and the buses in my town are extremely infrequent (every 90 minutes). And billing for clients. Most of the time, I work on a flat rate based on estimated hours, though I almost always underestimate, so I use a time tracker to help me estimate better. I’m aware, peripherally, of time passing, but for the most part, I’m not rushing to get to the next thing.

One of the most mind-bendingest of Tolle’s teachings is that the future doesn’t exist. But once you can get your head around it – whatever happens, happens in the present moment. It doesn’t happen in the future. And if we can learn to be present in each moment, then we can handle anything that comes up, because it will be in the present.

I don’t watch a countdown; I don’t have a TV, and I’m not surrounded by coworkers talking about resolutions or holiday plans. It’s just another day. The more I focus on time passing, the older I feel; the more I focus on the present moment, the better I feel.

But still. There’s a collective energy around New Year’s. I now see it as a chance to look at where my life feels good, where it doesn’t, what I want to continue doing and experiencing (there’s not much in my life – in terms of things I have control over – that doesn’t feel good that stays in my life. I don’t keep bad-feeling things in my life.)

Yet I also do that regularly. Not on a daily basis, exactly – not at any regular interval, but it’s a constant monitoring. It’s a byproduct of wanting to feel as aligned as I can. Where am I resistant? Where am I aligned? Is there anything I can do to shift the resistance? Or to shift the situation? What about leaving the situation, is that an option? My entire life is about getting into alignment.

I go out for a walk and I press my hand against a juniper tree, feeling the bark rough against my palm. The tree doesn’t know or care what day it is, or even what year it is. The tree is simply there. In this moment.

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Sarah Chauncey

For more than two decades, I struggled multiple treatment-resistant mood disorders. I spent more than 20 years in psychodynamic therapy and tried 18 different medications. In 2010, I began searching for ways to rewire my brain naturally for inner peace. I write about the practices and insights that have improved my mental, physical and spiritual health.


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