What Time Is It?


Spiritual practice involves mixing transcendent realizations with the mundane routines of daily life; we are tasked with seeking financial security while understanding that transcendent security only comes from within; we establish a social identity, solidified around skills, abilities and personality characteristics so that we can pursue careers and responsibilities, yet learn via spiritual practice that the self is not a static thing, but rather a process of change.

One of the great challenges of integrating the sacred with the profane lies in the way we relate “time.” From one perspective, time is a set of durations—ie hours, days, etc—that create a communal calendar and clock we live in, allowing us to coordinate our activities. We all race towards the same hourly increments, rushing here and there to show up for appointments at each prearranged, unified times. We coordinate our lives within these increments. Sit go, stop star, tick tock. Our lives are loaves of bread, some long, some shorter, sliced into a unified grid of hours and days. (This view of time turns it into a symbolic commodity, a resource akin to the almighty dollar: we “save time” by accomplishing things faster; we’re reminded that “time is money,” and warned “don't waste my time.”) We carry the omnipresent clock into our weekends, even our meditation retreats, still worrying about wasting time. It’s 11:30am; I’ve got to be enlightened by now, lunch will be ready soon!

The Buddha pointed towards another approach to time: He instructed us to let go of the past and the future; we are to live entirely in the present. Furthermore, "enlightenment is where nothing comes, goes or stands still; nothing passes or arises…” (Udana 8)

The implications are vast and difficult to wrap one’s head around: we are expressions of time itself; its we who are changing in the present, rather than time passing by and changing us. The present itself is stable; its the objects within it (for example, us) that are in constant in flux, lacking any stable identity. We are iterations of time, constantly in emergence. And so time is not slipping past us, we are slipping through the present, for there is no other time than now.

Get it? Now worries if you don’t: The goal is simply to liberate us from continuously internalizing and synching our lives to the universal clock, constantly ticking away our lives. The present moment is not fleeting, nor a period of time if we open to it; it can last as long as we put aside the internalized timekeeper and maintain a deep, connection to the present via continuous, receptive, sensory attention. For only the narrative, story telling mind lives by the communal clock; the rest of awareness has no clock or timetable; most of the mind is, in fact, experiencing life as simply a timeless present; much of our awareness has always lived here and now. The idea that we live in fleeting present—surrounded by what’s been lost to the past and impending in the future—falls away, and we experience a great freedom.

So the goal is to liberate ourselves, whenever possible, from the increments collective clock we race against, the imperious hours, and open to allowing moment unfold. We allow each state of awareness to unfold for as long as they take. From this view there’s no such thing as less or more important time; there is no time other than what we’re experiencing now. And yet we also maintain an appreciation that the mechanistic world co-exists, demanding us to make our appointments, to live within the seconds that are ticking by, forever lost.