There are different aspects of time that combine to create our experience that happens within space-time.
The aspects of time relate to the different parts of experience.
These different aspects are:
- Body: Only this moment
- Heart: The entirety of everything that has happened and will happen
- Mind: Timelessness
- Soul: The flow of time
When these things combine, they create a sense that everything in the Universe is unfolding by itself.
Through cultivating a direct experience of these different aspects of time, and not getting lost in projections of the past and future, we are able to be present with what is really happening in the the body-heart-mind-soul that is creating our experience.
Non-Self & Physical Bodies
In Buddhism there is a real obsession with the sense of non-self. It is the focus of a lot of practice and seen by a lot of people as the end goal.
When you understand the fundamentals of how time constructs our sense of reality, then this no longer makes sense. This is what I will describe in this blog post.
It is impossible to completely destroy a sense of any self. We do have a body that we inhabit and this creates an experience that is literally separate to the rest of the Universe.
Firstly, this is just obviously true. You will spend your life existing in the body you are in with its natural preferences, genetics and physical traits. There is no way to escape this.
But also if we weren’t somehow separate from the rest of the Universe there would be no experience. You have to have an experiencer for there to be experience. If the Universe was just one thing it wouldn’t be able to experience itself. Non-duality is pointing to the ‘not twoness’ rather than a ‘oneness’ – the rely on each to arise rather than being the same thing.
The boundary that brings about the separation between experiencer and experience is created by our physical bodies; matter has physical boundaries that other aspects of the Universe, like awareness, don’t.
It is true that a large part of what we experience as ‘self’ is constructed by our minds, for example the idea that we have a fixed self who we can imagine being in the past and the future. But because our bodies do create a separate self, the idea of getting rid of the self becomes just an endless web of confusion and is ultimately putting the cart before the horse.
The body is not separate from the mind so what counts as ‘self’ and what is the sense of self that is just the body that you inhabit in this moment creating an immediate personal experience is an endless interconnected web.
There’s no sensible place to draw the line and say that one type of experience is self and another type of experience is non-self.
One of the reasons this is such a problem is because how people define the word self is so vague. People assume that everyone is talking about the same thing and that they have some strict definition, when actually people are just vaguely waving towards some aspect of experience that typically feels quite unpleasant for people.
Some people use non-self to mean non-duality, some use it to point to a lack of free-will, some use it to point to the transient nature of sensate experience, some use it to point towards the centrelessness of experience and some people use it to point towards interconnectedness and how we are actually a collective rather than individuals.
All of these are valid and useful things to talk about but people should just say what they mean instead of shoe-horning it into the vague concept of non-self.
We can all take a second to laugh at the absurdity that some Buddhist communities are essentially a game of: which self can claim to have a no-self with the most authority.
In reality all of these interesting ways of experiencing the world are actually manifestations of experiencing time in a different way. Or more accurately of time presenting reality to us in different ways:
- Body: When we are fully present in this moment we don’t feel like a person with a past or future.
- Heart: When we are aware of the vast expanse of time we aren’t caught up in our own stuff.
- Mind: When we are in a state of timelessness we don’t create a sense of an experience in the same way.
- Soul: When we are fully absorbed in the flow of time we don’t feel separate to the rest of the Universe.
When we are some combination of all these things, we are aware that everything is unfolding by itself in each moment and we feel connected to what is unfolding without much of a sense of identification.
In all these cases it is time that is constructing our experience. The sense of a self (or lack thereof) that arises in this experience is a symptom of the way time is presenting reality to us.
Resistance and Presence
Resistance to how things are is what stops us being able to be present with the different aspects of time; we want to be able to give ourselves freely to what is in our experience.
When presence arises, things stop pulling us away from how things are in this moment and we start to see and experience things as they really are.
We might start to get a sense of interconnection or non-duality, for example. This is the natural maturation of the Universe being expressed through us and is ultimately the key to any awakening – it is something that is happening simultaneously on a cosmic timescale and a personal one.
Coming into presence in this moment will not necessarily remove all your suffering or reveal some perfect way of being or experiencing. Claims to this end are totally absurd and I am in fact saying the opposite – things take time to come into fruition and the Universe, humans and awakening are included in this.
A lot of what is present in this moment is very painful to be with, otherwise we wouldn’t resist being in it. If it was somehow perfect and easy being present we would already be doing it. In order to be able to be present, it takes healing the trauma that we carry that creates resistance in the first place and creating the conditions that make it possible for us to be present, which is what this whole process is about.
This also isn’t about an intellectual understanding of time or the way that we perceive it. It’s more like the door that gets opened when you embrace how things are in this moment – emotionally, physically and perceptually – and step into your personal experience fully.
We aren’t using a conceptual understanding of impermanence, no-self or suffering to bypass being present with experience. We are slowly integrating the different parts of us and bringing them into this moment.
Going through this process is like carefully picking up each projection and resistance that we hold, dusting it off, taking time to care and understand for it and looking underneath it to understand what is the real emotion or intention that is present in this moment.
Once we hit on the real intention, it’s like that part of us comes home and is reintegrated into our being. Ready to connect with what is present in this moment, or the next one. Whatever that is.
This process plays out slightly differently, depending which aspect of time we are connecting with.
This is a very succinct version of the different aspects:
- Body: When developing the ability to be present with only this moment, we want to be in the body. We are finding resistance and being with the physical process that transforms this, for example crying or being with energy body transformations.
- Heart: To connect with a sense that all time is ever-present, we can show up to receive what is being shown to us. We don’t need to judge or define it, we can be with things as they are, and embrace them whole-heartedly as we know we have no control in the situation anyway.
- Mind: To get a sense of timelessness, we are developing a deep understanding into the nature of ourselves and reality. This creates a spaciousness in experience where we feel things are allowed to be as they are without needing them to change – we aren’t looking towards the past or the future for a sense of comfort.
- Soul: To embrace the flow of time we are embracing how we feel in this moment, even if that feels dark or difficult in some way, rather than looking back and using judgement or justification. This frees up time to flow in one direction and us to be able to go with what is happening rather than reshape it with our minds.
How We Sense This
These aspects of time aren’t really something to be understood conceptually – more like things to be intuited and embodied.
Here is a guided meditation through the different aspects of time, which may give you an intuitive or imagined sense of how these could present for you.